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I See Your Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams, and Raise you a James Johnson

Raptors fans are hoping they see a lot more of this from James Johnson in TO...
Raptors fans are hoping they see a lot more of this from James Johnson in TO...

The HQ looks at Bryan Colangelo's recent acquisition, in addition to the impact of some huge trades that have gone down in the past 48 hours that directly impact the Dinos...


James Johnson was drafted 16th overall in 2009 by the Chicago Bulls.

Yesterday evening he was dealt to the Toronto Raptors for what will likely be a pick in the 27-30 range of the upcoming NBA Draft.

At face value, this would seem to be a good move for the Raps.  As noted in the comments yesterday, picks in the 27 to 30 range rarely turn out to be even rotation players in the NBA, while Johnson already has some NBA cred, and with less than two years experience in the league, potentially a good chunk of upside.  Again Bryan Colangelo is looking for a diamond in the rough; a player who perhaps didn't fit with a certain system, needed a change of scenery, or simply didn't belong in a team's future plans, that could be a key piece of his team moving forward.  He's done this repeatedly in his tenure with the Raptors resulting in the likes of Kris Humphries, Joey Dorsey and Patrick O'Bryant.

However to me, this one makes a lot less sense than those other transactions.

For one, it's hard to see the upside in Johnson that BC and his crew see.  We're talking about a 24 year old player here in a league where at 25, most players, regardless of playing time, "are who they are" so to speak.

Sure, it's doubtful that the pick Toronto gave up for Johnson turns into a starter quality player, but isn't it better to take a shot at a complete unknown, then a player one who looks to be pretty much set in stone in terms of his role in the league?

I'd argue this to be even more true in this year's draft, a draft that looks to be deep, but not particularly high in All-Star power.  It's in drafts like this where teams can perhaps grab a player that may not have much "upside," but was a proven winner in college and perhaps has one huge NBA-ready skill set.

Paul Millsap was a great example of a player in this vein, and this year Toronto would likely have guys like Moorehead State's Kenneth Faried, the NCAA's all-time leading rebounder, to choose from.

Again though, it's certainly no sure thing, so I'm not down on this move for this reason alone.

More importantly, I just don't think Johnson is much more than a D League player.

He doesn't excel in any one area, and while Johnson has the strength, athleticism and size to be a major defensive factor at this level, it hasn't happened yet, something echoed by his lack of playing time under Tom Thibodeau in Chicago, a defensive guru first and foremost.

From a numbers perspective, his basic stats decent considering his lack of playing time, although his shooting numbers (42% from the field, 22% from 3-point range this season) leave little to be desired.  But his advanced metrics are awful including a negative wins produced mark so far in his career, and a less than desirable PER average of 10.2 in his career to date.

Will these numbers jump up with extra minutes in Toronto?

I have my doubts.

Even before he was drafted's John Hollinger flagged Johnson as a player who could be a "potential disappointment" based on his college stats.  He simply didn't excel in any one area, had a poor "pure point rating" (a measure of how well a player passes and handles the ball), and wasn't a great rebounder for someone with his size, strength and athletic ability.

And remember, Johnson was hardly a raw project coming out of Wake Forest.  He was one of the Demon Deacons' top two options and a fairly dominant college sophomore.  It's just hard for me to see a ton of upside here, and unfortunately I see a lot of Joey Graham in Johnson; body and skill set that look perfect for the NBA, but the inability to put it all together consistently.

In addition, considering the way Jay Triano has doled out minutes to players like Julian Wright and even Sonny Weems in the past, I have a hard time seeing how he'll get the 25 to 30 minutes a game he may need to show substantial improvement.  (Or at least show if he's worth keeping around past next season, the final one on his contract.)

Finally for me, there's the timing of this move.

Couldn't BC have waited until before the draft to do this?  The Bulls were desperate to open up a roster spot, couldn't Toronto simply have used part of their TPE to absorb the contract?  Why the need to give up another pick, especially as noted above, in a draft like this?

And while highly unlikely, what happens if that Miami pick for some reason turns into a higher option thanks to injuries down the stretch?

Add all the pieces up and I'm left scratching my head a bit.

Do I hate this deal?

No.  Frankly it's probably not worth much time getting too irritated about, and financially it makes sense considering the Raps take on essentially one year of guaranteed salary, instead of more than one via the 27th or 29th pick etc.

But for Raptors' fans, it's hard to see this move and not look around them at Toronto's competition, who seems to be improving at light speed while the Raps make transactions that look lateral at best.  The Nets are now grabbing point guard Deron Williams in what could be a major coup, and of course the Knicks are 48 hours removed from hauling in Carmelo Anthony.

Factor in the improvement of Evan Turner and the Philadelphia 76ers already this season, and the Atlantic Division hardly looks like the tea party is was but 4 seasons ago.

In fact one could argue that with this move, and the cap space they'll have this off-season, the Nets now lock up one of the final two playoff spots in the East that were left untouched by Boston, Orlando, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta and New York.

Yep, rough.

In any event, I'll leave the final word on Mr. Johnson to the one and only Bullsblogger, from the legendary Blog-A-Bull... 


1)  RaptorsHQ:  James Johnson came out of college with what looked to be some of the best potential in his draft class.  Yet after less than two seasons, the Bulls are moving him to the Raptors in exchange for what nearly amounts to a second-round pick.  Give us your take on Johnson in terms of where his game currently is, and what his strengths and weaknesses are.

Blog-A-Bull:  Part of the issue is that we don't really know where his game is, his playing time in one and a half seasons has been so sparse that it's tough to really say his game has grown at all. His issue is always been that he has no true strengths, but is merely pretty good at a lot of things. He has size, athleticism, can shoot, can create, but does brings all of those things with a lack of excellence, or even control.


2)  RHQ:  Was Johnson simply not the right fit for Chicago in terms of their future, or are we talking about a player that the Bulls didn't ever see being a legit NBA rotation player?

BAB:  I think he could be a rotation player, but wouldn't soon be the type of rotation player the Bulls needed. They are at a point in their roster construction where they need true role players and specialists, and Johnson was a mistake-prone (yet havoc-creating) high-usage performer when given time. He could potentially change a game, but head coach Tom Thibodeau clearly didn't want to risk him bringing his detriments to the court even for that potential, the stakes are too high.


3)  RHQ:  Johnson didn't get a ton of playing time in his tenure with the Bulls (11 minutes a game through two seasons), although with injuries to Luol Deng, and a shortage of depth at the 2-3 spots in his rookie season, the argument could be made that he had his opportunities.  Do you see Johnson being able to flourish in Toronto if given a substantial increase in playing time?

BAB:  I'm not sure he will flourish, but I'll say the only way he CAN flourish if he gets a LOT of PT. As said above, he's not a one-dimensional skill type of guy who you can count on one particular thing...he's someone who can do a lot offensively but needs the ball to do so, and a coach will have to live through the growing pains. He also has a lot of potential defensively but is prone to fouling. He'll need that time on the court to better hone what he can and can't do really well, and then focus on those things. I see his ceiling as a high-usage bench scorer, and you'd think Toronto has the environment to accommodate at least giving him a real shot. Whether he earned one or not, he wasn't going to get it in Chicago.