James Johnson made a strong first impression in Toronto and hopes it will be enough to make him a big part of its future, whether another small forward is brought in or not.
“It was exciting, it was intense and I loved every minute of it,” Johnson told the Sun of his 25 games (all starts) with the Raptors after being buried on the bench in Chicago.
“Coming here, getting those kinds of minutes right away is something I haven’t had since I left Wake Forest University.”
Johnson played well, stuffing the stat-sheet with averages of 9.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steals on 46% shooting while providing decent defence.
He knows the Raptors have the third-best odds of winning the draft lottery and that Harrison Barnes and Derrick Williams (who likely will be converted from the power forward position) are two of the top prospects in the draft and could well be selected by the team.
“I just wanted to prove I can play in this league and after I proved that to myself, I just wanted to keep the confidence running and show that Toronto doesn’t need another three-man (small forward),” Johnson said.
However, Johnson added he is more interested in contributing to a strong team than getting all the minutes on a bad one.
“Of course get the best player available to them, we want to win and turn it around to a winning franchise. Get the best player available, but if not (and a small forward isn’t added), I feel that we’re good here.”
DeROZAN ON RADAR
Despite a horrendous 22-60 record, there were some positives during the now wrapped Raptors season.
The progress of DeMar DeRozan is at the top of that list.
DeRozan took a massive step forward, starting all 82 games and raising his rebounds, steal, assist and block numbers while doubling his scoring average from 8.6 per game to 17.2 in 13.2 more minutes per night.
DeRozan said not making the all-rookie team last season put a huge “chip on my shoulder.”
“It seemed I was under the radar (I) wanted to show I can play,” he said.
“He got two times better from his rookie year to second year,” added fellow bright spot Ed Davis, who turned in a fine rookie campaign.
Reggie Evans believes the next step for DeRozan is adjusting to being the main threat and to the constant double-teams that come with that status.
“(DeRozan) made himself one of the hottest players in the game and needs to be ready for more attention,” Evans said.
The Compton native seems ready for it and said he will spend his summer adding much-needed range to his jumper, working on his ball-handling and adding strength.
Head coach Jay Triano says strength will be a key both on defence and at the offensive end in terms of finishing strong.
The coach lauded DeRozan for finishing third in sophomore scoring after he was 14th among rookies in 2009-10.
SEASON NOT A WASTE
“We weren’t the worst. I thought we improved.”
Those were the words of forward Amir Johnson, one of the most improved Raptors, but is that setting the bar way too low considering the team lost 60 of 82 games?
“The record doesn’t really show it, but it’s going to pay dividends in the long run,” said point guard Jerryd Bayless who went from smaller roles with playoff outfits in Portland and New Orleans to the third-worst team in the league.
“It was a rough season, 22 wins is not a positive by any means, but a young team with a young core got a chance to play and get experience.”
Bayless compared the situation to that of other young teams that have now become powerhouses like Oklahoma City, which went through some dark days with young lineups before finding its way.
“It’s definitely going to help us.”
Head coach Jay Triano said injuries and inexperience crippled the season, but it shouldn’t be seen as a waste, since considerable progress was made.
“Overall, I know it was a disappointing year with only 22 wins, but I like the attitude that our players had, the fact that all of our young players got better, and I like the atmosphere in the locker room,” Triano said, adding that it was strange to see players so upbeat following a 60-loss season, but “they know the reality of the situation.”