It’s been a vastly improved and more serious James Johnson in his second go-around with the Toronto Raptors and as his team started to struggle with DeMar DeRozan out of the lineup, he took it to another level. Johnson’s smiling face from earlier in the season – yes he is happy to be back in Toronto – has been replaced with a look of focus and concentration. When your team is facing adversity, there is no more playing around, it’s time to get serious.
“When you are winning everyone is having fun and when you are losing, it’s time to get back to the serious page of doing things the right way, staying locked-in in the locker room and just doing the little things right,” Johnson said.
Johnson has a role in Toronto and it’s a role that suits his particular skill-set and stage of his career. He often mentions the Raptors “white squad” or second unit with a note of pride. Toronto’s strong bench has been a big part of the team’s success this year.
“I am having fun (this season),” Johnson said. “When you accept your role it is easier to cope with what’s going on.”
Not always noticed from the outside, the person who helps the second unit guys cope with what’s going on is the outspoken Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez has made no secret of the fact he believes he can be a starter in the NBA, but that he puts winning first ahead of himself and he proved that by re-upping with the Raptors as a free agent this past summer.
“Greivis Vasquez is here man,” Johnson said. “A guy I used to (play) in college, we used to battle. (‘I keep him focused that’s it,’ Vasquez chimed in.) Yeah definitely, he lets me know what I’m doing wrong or when my demeanor is down – body language, so he’s a good guy to have around.”
Johnson’s strained relationship with Head Coach Dwane Casey in 2012 has resolved itself because of the maturity Johnson has shown this season. Always a skilled player, his stats are strikingly similar to those in 2011-2012 when the Raptors decided to send him to the Kings for a second round draft pick. This time Johnson has supplemented his natural talent with better decision-making and that more serious approach has been paying off.
“Years in the league are more important than years of age,” Johnson said. “Guys come in that are our age, maybe they were in China, maybe overseas somewhere or maybe they were in the D-League for a while, they come in and it’s a whole different game – a harder game to adjust to. Playing for a while in this league makes it easy.”
The last season Johnson was with the Raptors, he was taking over 32 percent of his shots from 10 feet away out to the three-point line and Johnson’s mid-range shot is terrible. Now he takes 76.5 percent of his shots within 10 feet of the basket and he’s finishing more of them than ever before. He is averaging 59.3 percent from the field compared to a career average of 46.5 percent. Johnson still takes about 15 percent of his shots from three-point range and only hits on about 20 percent of them, but they are taken in the flow of the game and don’t look forced.
Despite the vastly more efficient offense, Casey still wants him on the court for his defense and Johnson is grabbing defensive rebounds at the highest rate of his career (17 percent of available defensive boards) and perhaps as importantly, Johnson is looking after the ball better. His turnover rate is 13.9 percent, down from his career average of 16.8 percent. Johnson is still blocking shots and getting steals the same as always.
At 27-years-old (28 in February), this is Johnson’s sixth NBA season and the changes from when he was in Toronto last time are hard to miss. He has become a lot more serious and focused player with experience and become huge addition to Coach Casey’s rotation.
photo credit Paul Saini Fylmm.com
“I am definitely not (the same guy),” Johnson said. “Going down to the D-League, developing different skills and developing my confidence and my all-around game really helped me out and knowing that you can’t take this league for granted because you can be out of it at any minute.”