Summer League: Amir Johnson

When Amir Johnson made the decision to play in the Bucks summer league everyone was excited.  A fifth year guy, Johnson could easily have worked out on his own and not risked getting involved with younger guys scrapping for minutes and trying to make names for themselves.  Summer league basketball bares little resemblance to that of an actual NBA game and it’s questionable whether it is more or less beneficial than spending time working with a trainer.  But Johnson saw it as a good training ground for the things he was trying to get better at and an opportunity to spend some time with guys who will actually be seeing a lot of minutes come October.  Now that summer league is done we can look back and say, how did it work out?

Like most things in life, and in basketball, there were ups and downs.

Johnson certainly appears to be forming a chemistry with Brandon Jennings.  Constantly running, Johnson seems ever-ready to flush alley-oops, while Jennings seems more than willing to comply with his new partner’s alley-oop eagerness.  They paired up for numerous sweet looking lobs, including one Jennings threw from half court.  A lob from half court not only requires great timing and skill from each player, but trust and a similar mindset, the two seemed to have developed those two things nearly instantly.  Johnson didn’t get a lot of opportunities to run the court, or even get consistent minutes, in Detroit, and he at times looks as if he’s been freed when he sees Jennings getting ahead and pushing.

But it wasn’t all lobs and love for Amir.

For seemingly every thunderous conversion of a Jennings pass there was another silly foul.  The knock on Johnson had been his inability to stay on the court and out of foul trouble.  How did that go in Vegas?  Game One: 24 minutes played 8 personal fouls.  Game Two: 23 MP 6 PFs.  Game Three: 25 MP 6 PF.  Game Four: 29 MP 7 PF.  So we’re not quite there yet.  File the foul work under: what happened in Vegas will hopefully stay there since it made it’s way there from Detroit.  To be fair, one out of every three players in Vegas summer leagues plays absolutely no defense.  When you’re a big man protecting the hoop this leaves you vulnerable to foul trouble.  Jennings in particular was taking lots of risks, leaving Johnson to pay for it.

The foul trouble wasn’t the only thing I found to be underwhelming about Amir’s summer league work.  When I first got word of the trade for Johnson one guy came to mind.  Andray Blatche.  Blatche is the proverbial underachieving high school player.  Drafted the same year as Johnson, the Wizards have long been waiting for him to get it together, on the court and off since he joined the team.  Blatche showed serious positive signs in Vegas.  In his three summer league games, Blatche averaged nearly 20 points to go along with over 11 boards.  He’s given a lot more opportunities than Johnson to score, but rebounds are not given, they are taken.  Johnson has historically been a terrific per minute rebounder, but showed little of that in Vegas.  He did not crack double digits and was not once the Bucks sole rebounding leader in a game.  For a guy slated to make his coin off his shot blocking and rebounding, that’s a bit of  a problem.

But it’s just summer league, I know.  Really, all summer league does is gives us something to distract us from the daily trade rumors and inactivity from the Bucks.  Bucks fans should probably just be glad to have a guy like Johnson around to compete with Ersan Ilyasova and learn from Kurt Thomas about how to be a power forward.  It will be fun to see what kind of lobs he’ll be able to convert come October, but it’s not always about dunks and running the break.  Here’s to hoping summer league was a mere blip on the Amir Johnson radar screen.

Categories: The Off Season