With South Florida sports fans still mourning the loss of Dwyane Wade, most of the Heat’s offseason acquisitions were met with sighs. So ultimately when the Heat added free agent forward, James Johnson this offseason it went somewhat unnoticed. The veteran forward who had spent the last two seasons in Toronto was something of an afterthought in a league hemorrhaging with stars.
In Toronto, Johnson was banished to the locker room where he helped mentor younger players and played limited minutes (just 16.2 last season). As a result, his scoring averages fell (he averaged just five points per game last season) and the only mention of Johnson seems to be tied to this highlight reel slam.
Fast forward a year, and Johnson is out of TO and found stability with the Heat. This isn’t a coincidence though, according to Anthony Chiang of the Palm Beach Post, Johnson shed 24 pounds to get to 8% body fat during the offseason and his preparation is evident. With Miami having dealt with an unholy amount of injuries Johnson was thrust into a big role and he’s performing very well.
Currently, Johnson is playing about 24 minutes a game and in that time averaging 10 points and 4.6 rebounds. Johnson’s breakout game for Miami came against Utah where he was largely responsible for Miami’s win (Johnson scored 24 points and grabbed 6 rebounds). Though he dealt with his own injury following that contest, Johnson is back in the rotation and even fantasy relevant. For example, last night in a double overtime thriller against Orlando, Johnson has 12 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists all while shooting 50% from the field.
What makes Johnson, a contributor for the Heat is the fact that he’s incredibly versatile. Even on off nights you can expect Johnson to deliver on defense, or spark Miami out of a scoring drought with an assist, or slam. Johnson is unpredictable, but smart. Where unpredictability would hurt him as a rookie, it works in his favor as a veteran because he makes solid decisions and keeps the defense off guard. He also has an underrated handle and at times has played point center this season, which is an incredibly strange move that works moderately well. The fact of the matter is, even if its not the best move Johnson is still capable of doing it. He’s a jack of all trades, something that the Heat have been lacking for years.
Miami is in a rebuild, albeit a “quick rebuild” according to recent quotes from Pat Riley. As trade value rises and falls for certain players one can expect Johnson to remain relatively consistent. Johnson is on a one year $4 million dollar deal with Miami, but it would be great to see him in a Heat jersey long term.