BOSTON -- You can always count on Amir Johnson's teams being in the 'pluses' whenever he's on the floor and he's at it again in his first year with the Celtics. Isaiah Thomas said Wednesday, "[Johnson] just does all the little things that fans don't see in the stat book. That's the type of player he's always been. That's how he's made his name . . . He's a big part of this team and I'm glad he's a part of it."
Johnson's impact might not be obvious, but it does manifest in the advanced stats sheet:
Amir Johnson's "heart and hustle" helps fuel Celtics - About.com
"The Celtics have a +6.2 Net Rating with Johnson on the floor this season, the team's best mark of all primary rotation players.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, because Johnson's teams have always performed better with him on the floor throughout his entire career.
In Johnson's 10 seasons prior to joining the Celtics, nine of his teams had a positive Net Rating when he was on the court (the only year he didn't was in 2010, a year the Raptors won just 22 games).
What this essentially means is that his teams have almost always scored more points per 100 possessions than the opponent anytime he's on the court. Whether it's his energy running the floor, his screen setting, or his hustle on defense, Johnson makes little plays that go a long way for his teams."
Johnson might be only 28-years-old, but he's an old 28. After making the jump from high school to the NBA, Johnson has a lot of miles on his legs. He's suffered chronic ankle sprains in recent years, which have degraded his rebounding and defense.
But with the Celtics, he's having a bounce-back season.
In Johnson's prime (2009-10 through 2012-2013), he had a defensive rebounding percentage of 19.1, which declined to 17.5 over the last two seasons in Toronto. At times, Johnson wasn't even leaving his feet for rebound chances, since he'd risk spraining it on the landing. But now with the Celtics, he appears mostly healthy other than a short bout with plantar fasciitis, and his defensive rebounding percentage has jumped back up to 19.3.
Defensively, Johnson's numbers have also increased. He had a block percentage of 3.6 in his prime, which slipped to 2.8 over the last two years, and this season it's 3.9.
Plays like this exemplify what Johnson has meant to the Celtics on defense. In what appears to be an easy layup, Johnson flies out of nowhere to block the shot. Notice the very subtle hop by Johnson, which he uses to time his jump for the swat.
Johnson has had games where he excels for one half and then struggles for the second, which could be a byproduct of his balky feet, but he's easily been Boston's best big man defender.
Small ball lineups are effective for the Celtics, and Johnson's two-way presence makes him an ideal center for those configurations.
"The biggest thing is who can be most effective on both ends and weigh that in sum instead of who can score, who can defend," Brad Stevens said before Thursday's game against Phoenix. "Amir's flexibility to guard any kind of big, from a skilled gut like [Markieff] Morris to a big guy like [Tyson] Chandler, who runs and rolls to the rim, certainly makes him a reasonable option."
Offensively, Johnson's 60.4 eFG percentage is also his career-best, since the 2009-10 season in Toronto (62.3).
Johnson has been a source for reliable offense on the post, where he almost always goes to his right hook. He can hit from a distance, like he does in the clip above, since he has soft touch from all angles of the floor.
The Celtics frontcourt rotation is crowded, but Amir Johnson's consistent play has put him at the top of the team's big man pecking order.