The signing of Amir Johnson made fans of the Boston Celtics feel the same way they do when they receive underwear and socks for their birthday. But those articles of clothing are a necessity, as are the skills Johnson brings to the court.
For two-years, $24 million, the Celtics acquired a 6'9" big that excels as a screener and pick-and-roll scorer, and hustles on the boards and on defense. He has struggled with chronic ankle sprains that have deterred his effectiveness, but for his price the benefits outweigh the risks.
Johnson was one of most efficient scorers in the league this past season, with a 57.4 field goal percentage, ranking 11th in the NBA. He also ranked ninth in points per possession as the pick-and-roll screener among players with at least 100 chances, according to Synergy Sports per NBA.com.
Despite his degrading athleticism, Johnson is still capable of finishing strong in traffic.
Johnson has excellent hands and body control, which allows him to put the ball on the floor, like he does in the play above, and the hops to finish with force. Of all bigs with at least 100 attempts in the restricted area, Johnson was 29th in field goal percentage.
But more often than not, this is how Johnson prefers to finish on the roll, sensing open space in the paint and then flipping the ball up with his soft touch. He serves as a moderate upgrade over Bass, who ranked 21st in pick-and-roll scoring, per Synergy, and as the perfect substitute for Tyler Zeller, who ranked fourth.
The Celtics have two formidable rolling big men, which will give their ball handlers some appetizing weapons. Isaiah Thomas was an elite pick-and-roll scorer this past season, but could see his assist numbers increase with a large target like Johnson.
If Kelly Olynyk or Jared Sullinger can space the floor, it will only make their attack that much more lethal. Expect Johnson or Zeller to usually be paired with Olynyk or Sullinger, but rarely together, though it could work since Johnson can also shoot threes.
Johnson won't attempt a lot of triples because of his plodding mechanics, but he is capable of knocking down them down. Per SportVU, Johnson drained 42.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes this past season. This additional floor spacing should give the offense more room to operate.
Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge have collectively established a positive culture for the Celtics, with a roster filled with players with a deep desire to win. From day one, Johnson will be a perfect fit in the locker room. He is a high character, team-first player who gives his all every night. He hustles in transition, willingly takes charges and dives on the floor, and plays with emotion that will invigorate the TD Garden faithful.
But Johnson's history of ankle injuries has sapped him of the lateral quickness that once made him a more consistent impactful player on the defensive end and on the boards.
Before this past season Johnson worked with trainers at P3 to improve his ankle biomechanics, but the treatments weren't effective, since he hobbled up and down the court for large stretches of the season, and missed time in April. The 28-year-old's block rate declined and his rebounding rates were still low after a career year in 2012-13.
Also troublesome is Johnson's Defensive Box Score Plus Minus, which sunk to his lowest total in years. He still grinds hard and has rarely missed games, but his ankle injuries have hindered him as a defender. He's less able to step out on shooting bigs or switch pick-and-rolls, since he's usually playing with nagging injuries.
To be clear, he is still a solid overall rebounder and defender, but he likely won't be able to make the impact he once did unless he's able to stay healthy over the course of the season.
However, Boston's defensive system could also help his numbers return to their former state.
Toronto hedged or blitzed pick-and-rolls more than any other team in the NBA this past season and the Celtics ranked near the bottom. Hedging is more demanding for a big man, since they have to step out on the ball handler and then race back to the big man. The Celtics prefer to drop/ice screens, which could put less wear and tear on his ankles.
Johnson isn't a dominant shot blocker, but with his size he still does a solid job of contesting and altering shots.
On this play Johnson is the help defender. He does a solid job of closing out to Boris Diaw and funneling him into the big man and Diaw dumps it off to Tim Duncan for what looks like an easy layup. But Johnson is aware and quick enough to block the shot away.
Johnson was once the eraser for the Raptors, cleaning up all their mistakes with blocked shots, but that won't happen as frequently as it once did. However, he still brings a high basketball IQ to the Celtics, giving them a second reliable rim protector.
The Celtics probably need to find a premier shot blocker at some point in the future, but presently they will have to live with Johnson and Zeller. The key will be keeping Johnson healthy, or at least minimizing how much his chronic sprained ankles hinder his play on the floor.
Either way, with a non-guaranteed second year on the contract, the Boston Celtics are well positioned to get all they can out of Johnson for one year before making a decision entering the summer of 2016. He's a low-risk/medium-high reward big man that will undoubtedly give his all every night as a highly efficient scorer.