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Raptors Player Review: Folk Hero James Johnson

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It was a tumultuous first season back with the Toronto Raptors for James Johnson minutes-wise, as he saw his role fluctuate over the course of the year.

James Johnson had a curious season in his return to the Toronto Raptors
James Johnson had a curious season in his return to the Toronto Raptors
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Rewind to the 2013-14 NBA Playoffs with Joe Johnson of the Brooklyn Nets terrorizing the Toronto Raptors’ wing players down low. Toronto would fall just short in an epic Game 7, largely because of Johnson’s size and strength advantage in the post.

Recognizing this area of need, Masai Ujiri brought back a familiar face in the offseason: James Johnson, who had matured greatly from his last stint with the franchise.

Johnson was a key cog in Dwane Casey’s rotation over the first 40 games of the 2014-15 season, logging double-digit minute totals in all but one of his appearances. Then things got a little wonky with the 28-year-old seeing sporadic playing time with some dreaded DNP-CDs (did not play - coach’s decision) sprinkled in.

With the Raptors drawing the Washington Wizards in the first round of the post-season, many believed Johnson would be a valuable tool in limiting veteran trash-talker Paul Pierce. Casey kept his best wing defender glued to the bench in Game 1, prompting "We want James" chants inside the Air Canada Centre.

When all was said and done, Johnson played a grand total of 11 largely ineffective minutes as the Raptors bowed out in the first round once again.

Statistics

70 games (17 started), 19.6 minutes, 7.9 points, 58.9 FG%, 21.6 3P%, 65.7 FT%, 3.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 blocks, 0.8 steals, 1.1 turnovers.

Best Game:

Feb. 8 vs. San Antonio Spurs:

In his reintroduction to the starting lineup, Johnson shot 8-of-10 from the field on his way to a 20-point performance in one of the Raptors’ most impressive wins of the season. The Wake Forest product delivered the finishing blow, knocking down the go-ahead three-pointer with less than a minute on the clock. Johnson would go on to start the next nine games.

Honourable mention: Dec. 19 vs. Detroit Pistons

"I cocked that joint back and banged on him"

Worst Game:

March 8 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

Typically an ultra-efficient shooter, Johnson had his worst field-goal percentage of the season, connecting on only two of his 10 attempts from the floor. If he could have reined in his game a little better, Toronto might have come away with a victory, instead falling by four points.

Strengths & Weaknesses:

+ Combination of size and quickness makes him a versatile defender

+ Gifted playmaker with the ability to get to the basket seemingly at will

- Shoots an abysmal 22 per cent from three-point range

- Can lack self-awareness and play outside of his limits

Role Next Season:

As long as the Raptors are committed to Terrence Ross as their starting small forward, Johnson will almost certainly be relegated to a reserve role. With his ability to play on the wing or as a power forward, Johnson should ultimately see the floor in some capacity.

However, where he slots on the depth chart greatly depends on how Ujiri tackles the offseason. Will Lou Williams be back, forcing DeMar DeRozan to get more action at the three spot? Will a player acquired via trade fit Toronto’s system better?

A Gif to Sum it All Up

"Where is he?"