Ostensibly, this column is to reflect on the often nebulous role James Johnson has on the Toronto Raptors. Each week I try--really, I do--to unpack some new angle of discussion on one of the more compelling players on the team. (It's also fun to try and guess how many minutes Johnson will play in a given week.)
This week though, I really just want to write about Star Wars. I'm going to see it tomorrow afternoon and it's all I can think about. To that end, I asked myself what the best SW character analogy is to Johnson. And, name aside, I think I've settled on one conclusion: General Grievous.
Yes, despite the fact we were already calling a previous Raptor (Greivis Vasquez) by this name, I think Johnson's the more accurate comparison. (Besides, there's no way Vasquez is plotting the demise of anything but bad times.) Anyway, Johnson, like the General, has the look of extreme competence and ability. He appears terrifyingly capable of doing anything he wants. And for a time--in a few minutes of every game and a chunk of Episode III--this is evident.
But then, in both cases, Grievous and Johnson are undone by a fatal flaw. In the former case, it's the unfortunate fact that Grievous is somehow a robot with an organic heart. Sure, he can spin four lightsabers at once, but what does that mean if you can shoot him a couple times in the breadbasket and handily take him out? For Johnson, similarly, it's that old brain of his that fails him--he's got the heart, but he doesn't always use it in the right way.
Did James Johnson Play?
Let's break this down into its light and dark components. On the plus side, Johnson did play this week, and ended up way over on my minutes line--he played just shy of 45 minutes (after I set the line at a comically low 28.5). In addition to that, he put up 15 shots over the past three games, which are the most he's managed in any other given week this season. He shot over 50 percent for the week, and even managed a respectable 40 percent from 3-point range (on five attempts).
But now the dark side. Johnson got a lot of his minutes this week in games against the Sixers and Pacers--the former almost got away from the Raptors, and the latter most definitely did. There were stretches in that Philly game that were peak-Johnson in the brain department. He'd bully his way by Nik Stauskas or Robert Covington for beautiful buckets but then completely lose them on the other end (multiple times!) for wide open 3s. This is the equivalent of force-choking a guy to death, and then tripping on the door jamb on your way out of a room.
Rather than go the usual route I've been forced to go these past few weeks (Johnson making a nice play on the periphery), we take a left-turn into the locker room. Here's Johnson revelling in the good times with everyone's new favourite Raptor, Lucas Nogueira:
Bebe is singing Can't Feel My Face at a note he can't hit. "LONG WEEKND!" James Johnson yells.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) December 14, 2015
First off, I think Long Weeknd could work as a new new nickname for Bebe, just saying. Second off, I'm so sad to have missed this in person. Third, I'm just going to slip this in here (because I suspect no one reads this part anyway), but Blake recently claimed he'd crush me in a game of 1-on-1, to which I say: game to seven, no twos, and I'll spot you a two point lead and the ball.
Prediction for the Week
A scary week ahead for the Raptors. Tonight they take on their mortal enemies, the Hornets, then the Heat (who've already embarrassed them once), then the Kings (who also embarrassed them) and then the Mavericks (always a tough out). We've gotten zero word about the status of DeMarre Carroll, and it's clear the Raptors bench now relies exclusively on whatever production Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, Bebe and yes, James Johnson can provide.
To that end, I say Johnson gets in all four games again this week and breaks the personal records he's set so far this season. Even if it means playing in a garbage time lineup with Anthony Bennett.
Over/Under Minutes: 57.5
We're going huge this week. Time to see if the Force is with you.
What's your bet?