Newest Rap an unknown quantity

Raptors' Chris Bosh trips over then-Pistons player Amir Johnson during a game in November 2008....

Raptors' Chris Bosh trips over then-Pistons player Amir Johnson during a game in November 2008. (Alex Urosevic/Sun Media)

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:48 AM ET

Amir Johnson is a mere footnote in basketball lore.

The most casual observer may have some understanding of his name and game.

To the diehard fan, Johnson is best known as the last player to go directly from high school to the NBA before the league instituted an age limit.

But there is much to learn about Johnson because so little is known about his game.

When he was given a chance to start last season in Detroit, the Pistons were in the throes of an implosion that ultimately led to rookie head coach and one-time Raptors small forward Michael Curry getting canned.

When Johnson was given touches and asked to impose his will on games, the results were negligible.

In an off-season of change, Johnson now finds himself a Raptor on a team that has undergone profound change.

The most appealing quality to Johnson is his age.

At 22, there's plenty of room to grow, and there's an abundance of energy and athleticism.

How he fits won't be answered until this fall, when training camp opens and when pre-season basketball takes on a different meaning with the Raptors.

'EXPERIENCE'

"I'm entering my fifth year and I'm bringing a lot of experience to Toronto,'' Johnson said yesterday during a conference call.

"The team is looking to get up and down the floor."

The jury is out on Johson's ability to finish around the rim, make shots and be a consistent defensive presence.

He's a big who doesn't always play big, but Johnson can block shots and the Raptors can certainly use a shot blocker.

Johnson says he's willing to do a lot of the game's little things that are often overlooked such as boxing out and setting hard screens.

His length and quicks allow Johnson to guard small forwards and power forwards.

He has been working on his offence this summer and dealing with the shock that sent him to Milwaukee and then to Toronto in a span of roughly two months.

For now, Johnson must be viewed as a depth player and nothing more.

The Raptors have six bigs on their roster -- Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani, Reggie Evans, Rasho Nesterovic, Patrick O'Bryant and Johnson.

Bosh and Bargnani will start in a front-court that features Hedo Turkoglu. Coming off the bench will be Evans, who provides toughness and rebounding.

There's experience and a calming presence in Nesterovic. O'Bryant remains a question mark because he's a big who plays small and is too prone to heave perimeter jumpers.

There's an opportunity for Johnson, but where and how he fits in is anyone's guess.

He has the potential to provide grit and an ability to defend.

When one looks at his numbers from last season, what jumps out is that Johnson averaged more rebounds (3.8) than points (3.7).

The stats aren't great, but what's good is that Johnson is willing to sacrifice his body.

HAS WON

He also experienced a winning culture two years ago and played alongside the likes of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace.

Johnson saw what it takes to be a pro, even as Detroit began to slowly dismantle.

Johnson learned a lot from the enigmatic Wallace, whose words Johnson has taken to heart.

"Sheed was on me everyday,'' Johnson said. "He always kept saying the key to playing good defence is to be vocal."

For Johnson, the key to getting minutes in Toronto will be defence after averaging 13.6 minutes last season.

He started a career-high 24 games last season, but Johnson isn't going to start in Toronto, barring injury.

Heck, there's no guarantee Johnson, who is listed at 6-foot-9 but reportedly has grown to 6-foot-11, will even start the season on the active roster.

All that is known about Johnson is that he's the most athletic big among Toronto's reserves.

FRANK.ZICARELLI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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