In his second go-around with the Philadelphia 76ers, backup big man Amir Johnson is playing some of the best basketball of his career (seriously).
While it may seem like a weird statement to make after he almost single-handedly cost the Philadelphia 76ers an overtime win against the Detroit Pistons, but it has to be said: Amir Johnson is off to the best start of an NBA season in years.
Though some initially question the team’s decision to bring back Johnson after playing out the 2017-18 season on a one-year, $11 million deal, especially after he showed some pretty noticeable wear and tear down the stretch, the 14-year vet has someone found some extra tread on his tires and looks like a player half his (NBA playing) age while backing up Joel Embiid.
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Currently averaging almost nine points on five shots a game, by far his best mark since his final season as a starter in Toronto back in 2014-2015, Johnson has become an invaluable part of the Sixers currently-undermanned frontcourt rotation, while serving as somewhat of a coach on the field like Elton Brand before him.
And the best part?
Johnson is actually putting up this impressive clip while playing fewer minutes per game than he did one season prior.
Currently averaging 13.5 minutes a game, a slight dip from last season’s 15.8, Johnson has somehow found a way to score more points and become more effective in less playing time.
While this may seem crazy on the surface, when you really think about it, it actually kind of makes sense.
Could Johnson step up and start a game if Embiid were unable to perform for whatever reason (god forbid another injury)? Sure. But could Johnson become a consistent double-digit scorer with a serious uptick in minutes, to say 24 minutes a game?
As we saw in the waning months of last season, Johnson is a player in the twilight of his NBA career. Sure, he can still play well, especially in short bursts, but his real value comes as a change of pace defender whiling the team gives Embiid a rest on the bench, a role he really seems to enjoy.
In a league where some players of a similar age (cough, cough Carmelo Anthony) struggle to accept a diminished role after watching their physical gifts erode season after season, its honestly quite refreshing to watch Johnson and to a lesser, but more honorable extent J.J. Redick sacrifice their pride and accept bench roles on a team like the 76ers who should still be considered a favorite for a top-tier seed in the 2019 NBA Playoffs regardless of their first week record.
This humility and dare I say ‘Brotherly Love’ is a big reason why Brett Brown‘s squad will weather their current quasi-slump and continue to get better over the forthcoming weeks. Unlike a team like, say, the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are a false step away from a straight up mutiny, and could very well be a completely different looking team by the season’s midway point, the Philadelphia 76ers have a strong foundation, and may just need a few tweaks to bring this one in for a landing. Brace yourself, this season is going to be a fun one to watch.