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Power Forward Friday: Would Amir Johnson still help?

Our weekly search for the ideal power forward arrives at Amir Johnson, the legend.

Chicago Bulls v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The difference between being a basketball fan at 16 and a basketball fan at 26 is, dare I say it, staggering. When you’re 16, you don’t care about deep things like defensive box plus-minus or D-League affiliates. You care about what’s cool — dunks, high-scoring games, crazy bounce passes. You also care more about your favourite players. I remember being such a humongous Kobe stan in my teens that it makes me cringe thinking back on it now. I’d watch most Lakers games, record them onto VHS tapes, and watch them back on weekends. It was pretty sad.

As you get older, the emotional connection with players lessens. You harden to the business aspects of basketball — salary caps, contracts, the reality of moving pieces. For many Raptors fans of a certain age, there’s an understanding now that Vince Carter’s trade wasn’t a calamity — it was a necessity based on countless years of mismanagement and failure to find one solid coaching voice. When we were younger, this trade nearly buried us in anger. Now... we’re older, and we can forgive.

Some players you hang on to, though. Two years later, I still love the idea of Amir Johnson. A bridge from mediocrity to success much in the vein of DeMar DeRozan, Amir was a top five likeable Raptor in franchise history. He’s the only professional athlete I follow on Snapchat, even though most of it is taping ankles and making fun of Kelly Olynyk. In Toronto, his locker room antics were YouTube highlights before Kyle and DeMar started their weekly quips. He was always in the community, an advocate of the city before the team was winning. I still roll with Amir, even long after his bum ankles rolled out to Boston.

The Situation

Amir Johnson was the granddaddy of the era we’re in now — where the constant clamouring for a better power forward is ever-present. Much like Patrick Patterson, he was great at all the little things, but not the scoring presence the Raptors needed. Would having him back be any sort of solution now?

First, the money details. Amir is in the second year of a 2-year, $24 million contract with the Celtics. He’ll be a free agent this summer at the age of 30. His health has been consistent — he plays through nicks and bruises like he did with the Raptors, and has missed just three games in two seasons.

The Basketball Fit

Amir’s started 21 of Bostons’ 22 games this year, most of them next to Al Horford in a small frontcourt — making him a main culprit in Boston’s rebounding woes. Still, his numbers are mostly sticking to his career averages. He’s putting up 6.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 19.7 minutes per game. The added depth that Horford provides has cut back the need for him to be a key cog in the offense — but that’s never really been a problem for Amir Johnson.

His shot chart shows a surplus of paint buckets, with a few summer threes mixed in.

The Emotional Fit

This section is just becoming a YouTube feature, but Amir’s return last season was one of the better moments for returning Raptors.

The Verdict

Let’s start here: I don’t think Amir Johnson coming back to the Raptors is a viable upgrade from their situation now. Pascal Siakam has shown enough indicators that he’ll grow into an Amir-like set of skills. Patrick Patterson’s shooting still makes him more versatile in the Raptors’ best lineups.

There is a certain nostalgia with Amir, though, and a recognition that veteran depth goes a long way in the NBA. The Celtics have relied on him to be solid in order to tread water this season, and he’s answered the call. He did that for six seasons in Toronto, and while he may not be a natural fit anymore, he bridged a team realizing success into one that can actually live it.