Forward Amir Johnson has been more of an inspiration than revelation for the Raptors.
Head coach Jay Triano said yesterday that they knew what they were getting when they traded for the 6-foot-9 power forward from the Milwaukee Bucks in the off-season.
Still, Triano added that he has been delighted with Johnson's play during training camp and in the team's four pre-season games. The former Detroit Piston leads all Raptors in rebounds (8.0) and blocked shots (1.25) during the pre-season and is also averaging 8.0 points in 20.8 minutes.
Defensively, the 22-year-old has lived up to the team's expectations. Now it's a matter of grasping Triano's offensive schemes and staying out of foul trouble.
Johnson, the last player to go right from high school to the NBA, is also averaging 4.5 fouls, including five, along with 12 boards, in Toronto's 100-93 win over the Washington Wizards on Sunday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre. However, Triano believes Johnson will cut down on the fouls once he gets comfortable with the new systems.
"The better you understand the schemes, then you're not rushing, you're there ahead of the play," Triano said. "He can learn a lot of that from Rasho (Nesterovic). Rasho's a guy who isn't quite as quick or explosive, but certainly knows where to be all the time and I think they're a nice pair.
"His ability to understand when to show and when to get back, and his help-side defence is very good," added the coach. "He's extremely aware at the defensive end."
Johnson is establishing himself as a potential rotation player with the Raptors, even though the club is not lacking in forwards and centres. Besides rebounding and blocking shots, the Los Angeles native provides toughness. He will box-out and set hard screens, and he's quick enough to be able to guard both small forwards and power forwards.
"I play to my strengths and one thing I do is play hard every time I come on the floor," Johnson said. "I try to run the floor and block shots and do all the little garbage man stuff. And I've worked a little bit on my offence this summer, shooting that jumper. I know the offence will come later on in my game. So I'm focussing on the things that I can do right now."
Johnson added that he is thrilled to get the opportunity to play regular minutes, which wasn't the case in Detroit.
"I'm really getting the full end of the stick," he said. "I'm just having a lot of fun."
Rumour was bogus
"It's nonsense," said Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo, about a Chris Bosh-to-Golden State trade rumour, which would supposedly involve forward Andris Biedrins.
Colangelo said yesterday that he hasn't talked to the Golden State Warriors since he traded for Marco Belinelli in July.