This is part five of a season-ending series looking back at each player’s 2017-2018 campaign.
Part one – Jerryd Bayless
Part two – Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
Part three – Justin Anderson
Part four – Richaun Holmes
I won’t spend a ton of time on Amir Johnson since he’s moving on, but I’ll start with his exit interview since veteran words usually carry a little more weight.
Johnson was complimentary of Brett Brown and felt like the Sixers’ organization and structure was very buttoned up and player-friendly.
“Great coach, man” Johnson said after the Boston playoff series. “I like how he just had everything in order right away. It was set in stages for us and he just had everything planned out. He definitely had his preparation on point, from the summertime, to training camp, though the season, all the way to the end. For a coach to have all these players buy in to what he’s preaching, that’s definitely a great coach. As the season went on, you could tell how good of a year we had. For these players to jell and have a great year like we had, that’s special. He definitely did a great job.”
Amir only played 15.8 minutes a game as Joel Embiid’s backup this year, ceding a starting role for the first time since his 2012-2013 season in Toronto. Point production was down to a ten-year low of 4.6 as a result, but his rebounding and defense remained mostly steady in a bench role, which he says was not difficult to assume.
“Just being the vet I am, cheering on my teammates, seeing stuff in the game, playing in previous playoffs, trying to help my teammates out, it wasn’t tough at all. Playoffs is basically like a chess match. You use different pieces and different players. I think our staff did a great job using the pieces we had.”
Johnson only played 17 minutes in the Boston series and was not called upon in games four or five.
He described the tone of his exit interview as “positive” and said his son’s birthday is this summer. He’s going to take “his lady” wine tasting in California and bring his daughter out to London to visit Peppa Pig world, which is apparently a park centered around a popular cartoon character:
Amir Johnson says he's taking his daughter to "Peppa Pig World" in London this summer pic.twitter.com/Da1VhUzJkC
— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) May 10, 2018
On the court, Johnson was a somewhat-maligned role player who split the fan base into pro-Amir vs. pro-Richaun Holmes camps. On the surface, it was very easy to view Holmes as the better player, a guy who was more energetic, more exciting, younger, and just capable of making that highlight-reel play or alley oop dunk. He passed the eye test. Johnson, by comparison, looked clunky and slow and off-balance on every half-hook putback attempt.
But he was a smart veteran player who earned Brown’s trust for his play on the defensive end. Never flashy, he just executed the Sixers’ game plans and did his job in a steady fashion, never really becoming a liability out there as Holmes sometimes did on the defensive interior. Later in the year, Johnson gave up some time to Ersan Ilyasova in a stretch five role, but Amir’s primary job was to spell Joel Embiid, with he did successfully more often than not.
Looking strictly at the numbers, there really wasn’t a ton of separation between Johnson and Holmes:
Amir was the better offensive rebounder and had more assists and steals. Richaun had slightly better shooting numbers and didn’t turn the ball over as much or commit as many fouls.
Johnson’s 101.6 defensive rating was much better than Holmes’ 106.2. He also stood out a bit more in advanced stats like VORP, box plus/minus, and win shares:
Holmes had him beat on true shooting percentage and player efficiency rating, but all told, there really wasn’t a huge statistical difference between the pair outside of DEFRTG.
All of that said, was Amir worth $11 million? Of course not, but it was a one-year overpay during a season when the Sixers were trying to find their feet while exiting the Process era. Now Johnson comes off the books and you turn to one of Holmes, Jonah Bolden, or a draft pick to fight for the backup center role in 2018-19. No real harm done, in my opinion. Richaun still played 746 minutes this year, so it’s not like he was glued to the bench or forever left in some faux dog house.
Amir was brought in to play a role off the bench, which he did. He stayed healthy, backed up Joel Embiid, got some rebounds and some points and played some decent defense. He now moves on. That’s about it.
I will say my favorite Johnson moment of the season was when he called out some people on Twitter after looking very average during the early part of the year:
And the third one:
I asked Amir about those exchanges back in November, if he was genuinely bothered by the criticism, or if he was just joking around. He was mostly jovial and lighthearted and didn’t have any hard feelings towards anyone:
Johnson: “I never (responded to online criticism) in my career at all. This was the first time. I just decided to start back.”
Crossing Broad: What made you want to do that?
Johnson: “I don’t know. I just wanted to see what they would say to my response. I’ve never responded to media so I just wanted to see how they would respond back if I said something.”
Crossing Broad: What was your response to their response?
Johnson: (laughs) “It was kind of like, you know, ‘I love you, really.’ I was saying it just to say it, pretty much. I think it’s cool just interacting with the fans. And I definitely appreciate the criticism at the same time. I love to love and it’s just kind of cool talking back and forth, seeing what the fans think. I’m all about our fans and everything else. It’s pretty cool.”
If nothing else, we’ll always have that.
Amir is 31 years old heading into the summer. I have no clue how it was possible, but he started 153 games for Boston in the two seasons prior to joining Philadelphia. Does he have anything left in the tank? I’m kind of interested to see where he ends up next year.