Raptors' Johnson a work in progress

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:50 PM ET

LOS ANGELES — No matter what rebounding number he posts, amount of shots he’s able to block or alter and no matter how many points he’s able to score, the number that will always surround Amir Johnson is the five-year, $34-million US contract the Raptors gave him this off-season.

Whether he ever lives up to the hefty number, no one knows.

Whether the salary was justified, people will always have an opinion, but how could anyone turn down such a lucrative deal.

Johnson seldom, if ever, gets caught up in his individual game, which is why he wouldn’t bite in preparation of Friday’s late-night tip against the host Lakers when it was pointed out that his start to the season hasn’t exactly gone the way many would have liked.

In terms of impact, Johnson hasn’t had much four games heading into the Raptors’ meeting against the reigning two-time defending champions.

Johnson grew up in nearby Westchester, became the last pro player to go directly from high school to the NBA and will one day be a presence on the Raptors.

The way Johnson prepares, that day could have arrived late Friday night or it may arrive Saturday night when the Raptors close out their four-game road trip with a tip in Portland.

He’s hardly losing any sleep and the Raptors aren’t throwing in the towel on Johnson given the newness of the season, but a lot more was expected.

If Johnson is to be viewed as an early season disappointment, it’s mitigated by the emergence of Reggie Evans, who beat out Johnson as the starting power forward when the regular season began last week.

Johnson is athletic and long enough to guard all three frontcourt positions, but for now his primary role is to sub in for Evans.

“I’m feeling good,’’ Johnson began on Friday. “We’ve shown what we can do in spurts, but it’s just a matter of carrying it on.

“The key for us is to stay committed to defence. The good teams always make the playoffs because they defend. Once we get our defence clicking, we’ll be fine. We have to stick with it.”

Johnson’s defence remains his biggest asset, his quickness coming in handy when help is needed and his ability to get off the floor a luxury when misses must be retrieved.

His offence remains a work in progress, an area that has improved but it still has plenty of growth to experience.

When any kind of pass gets thrown at the rim, Johnson is able to flush it home.

Given his limited shooting range and ability to put the ball on the deck, the offence doesn’t go through his hands.

In four games, Johnson has attempted only 10 shots from the field, making nine, all within five feet of the basket.

He’s averaging 12.3 minutes, 2.3 rebounds, 4.5 points and 3.0 fouls, but it’s early and Johnson is being patient.

It’s just that with so much invested in Johnson, the ideal scenario would have seen Johnson get off to a better start.

During Wednesday’s loss in Utah, Johnson tweaked an ankle, which he says is fine. The setback did force him to the bench following the first stoppage, but he would later return.

The opening allowed Joey Dorsey to make his debut in the regular season.

Not as athletic as Johnson, Dorsey is ultra aggressive, almost too aggressive, but like Johnson he leaves everything out on the floor.

Like Johnson, Dorsey was foul prone against the Jazz, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.

“We were kind of down after that loss in Utah, but we came back that night after falling behind big,’’ Johnson said.

“It showed everyone that we could bounce back. For us, it’s all about defence.”

And for Johnson, it’s about being impactful when he enters games.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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