Its been said that you can never have too much of a good thing. In most cases that is true but sometimes in the NBA a team with an abundance of talent can have more problems than expected. Even though it is almost a necessity in today’s NBA to have bench depth, there is a fine line between being deep and having too much talent, to the point where some players become casualties of a shortened rotation. We have more scoring, more athleticism, more shooting and more talent than ever before. In today’s edition of “Noise From The Sain Asylum”, I will take a look at two players that have been causalities of having more talent than Coach Joerger and even us as fans may be able to manage – Ed Davis and more so James Johnson
Last season Ed Davis had very inconsistent playing time to say the least under the leadership of then Coach Lionel Hollins. There were murmurings that Hollins and Davis got off to a bad start immediately after Davis was acquired from Toronto, and this became evident when Hollins gave an evaluation of Davis in an interview that ended with Hollins suggesting that Davis needed to play in the Summer League, which would have been a very rare occurrence for a player entering his 4th season in the league. After fan debate and a rocky start to this season, Davis’ play improved and he proved himself to be a valuable asset with his ability to protect the rim at a high level as well as score in the pick and roll. Even though he still has times where he mishandles the ball in the post and sometimes even appears physically overwhelmed, Davis has still showed tremendous potential and upside, including adding a mid range jump shot that he has shown the ability to knock down at a high clip. Earlier in the season Coach Dave Joerger would try to balance minutes at the backup PF/C position by going back and forth between Ed Davis and Kosta Koufos, as well as Jon Leuer, who was thought to be buried on the bench since Marc Gasol returned but now as of late has been not only receiving minutes but making an instant impact every time that he hits the court. Davis went from arguably being our 3rd big to now appearing to have dropped to our 5th big off the bench. This is all odd because there were several proposed trade rumors where Davis, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, could have very well been dealt. Davis has already rejected one contract offer from the Grizz and it really is a head scratcher that not only was Davis not traded after his value increased, but his playing time has also dramatically decreased as well. Koufos has cemented his spot as the main backup center and Leuer and now even James Johnson have gotten more time recently at the backup power forward position.
Even though James Johnson, who was labeled before he was drafted by Chicago in 2009, as a combo forward who was able to play both the small and forward positions, has shown an increasing ability to play power forward, his recent lack of playing time has also been a mystery. James Johnson, who was acquired as a free agent from the D-League came in and almost made himself an immediate fan favorite with high energy, ability to get to the basket and finish, athletic dunks, and insane shot blocks. Johnson adds an element to this team that only a few players have brought to the table. Johnson at one time ignited a huge debate that he should start at small forward to replace Tayshaun Prince, which would often be countered with the statement that Johnson who’s kamikaze style of play often resulted in numerous fouls and questionable and even erratic decision making. I pretty much agree that Johnson should not be our starting small forward at this point but more so because his skill set just seems more custom fit to be a reserve more so than any apparent weaknesses in his game. Johnson is a perfect backup small forward for this team. He brings instant energy and toughness and combined with Tony Allen off the bench he can be a nightmare to any team when he comes into the game. Johnson has had several stretches where he has went on individual double digit scoring runs where he has brought us back from deficits and of course everyone remembers his steal and 3 pointer against the Spurs earlier this season. This is just one of many examples of the things that Johnson can do in reserve minutes off the bench. Like I stated earlier I am totally fine with Johnson coming off the bench. I never was one of the one’s that was saying that he needed to start. Personally I’d rather see Tony Allen or even Mike Miller start at small forward. But the thing that I am honestly not only baffled by but also very uncomfortable about is the recent trend of Johnson not only playing reserve minutes but now appearing to totally not be a part of Coach Dave Joerger’s rotation at all.
Let me say this before I proceed. I’m flat out not buying the recent response by fans and media that the reason that Johnson is not playing because he is hurt. Not at all. Johnson, who suffered a sprained ankle in just 7 minutes of play against Cleveland on March 1st, missed the next game against Washington but then vowed that he would not miss many games because he was “not soft.” Johnson then returned against Brooklyn and scored 12 points in 14 minutes and looked to be perfectly fine and showed no issues with his ankle. There have no been no releases from the team stating that he reinjured his ankle and Johnson has been on the sidelines as lively and active as ever. Not favoring his ankle at all. Another thing that makes me not believe that he is still hurt is the fact that Johnson checked into the Bobcats game and played 5 minutes to close the game, which leads me ask the question where is the precedence for Joerger giving a player a safe “test run” of an injury in garbage minutes to see if he can play or to keep them loose? It’s never happened. Not with Marc, not with Conley, not with Zach and not with Allen. When a player has been out, he’s been out. And when he can play. He plays. Nothing about the limited minutes that he got against the Bobcats and especially the two DNP’s that he has received look like the result of a player that is still injured. It looks exactly like what it is – a player that has been replaced in his reserve role by the recent hot hand of Mike Miller and now even the emerging Jon Leuer.
Don’t get me wrong I am totally in favor of Mike Miller’s minutes increasing especially with the way that he is shooting the ball not only at a high percentage but also at a high volume. Miller is looking for his shot more often and even though I like many fans like the high flying, high energy, and athletic plays that Johnson seems to make on a regular basis, I’d prefer the extra point that comes from a Mike Miller 3 pointer any day of the week. I’m also fine with Jon Leuer getting playing time recently that cuts into James Johnson’s minutes. Even though I see Johnson as a better backup power forward than the stretch forward Leuer, Leuer has still played well enough to get time and adds a lot of intangibles to this team. My issue is that I cannot accept any scenario where Tayshaun Prince get 20 plus minutes a game and James Johnson gets none. This is what concerns me and surely several fans as well. Trust me I get the fact that we are winning right now. I hear several fans say this all the time whenever the questions about Johnson’s playing time are presented, but my counter point is what does that have to do with not having your best players on the court at all times? Does playing Johnson make you worse? Does he attribute to losing? That argument is short sited to me at best and by no means can be accepted as a reason not to play Johnson. I’ve even heard that his minutes have been reduced because of Tony Allen’s return but again what has been more productive than Johnson and Allen playing together off the bench? Yes the team is winning and of course I’m fine with that but it will be hard for me to accept that Tayshaun Prince who as Cam Rose, host of the Cam On Sports Show stated has more games where he has scored 0 points than he has where has scored 12 or more. Should Prince start? I’m not sure. Really not even concerned. His only chance of being even remotely productive would be with him starting rather than coming off the bench because personally I don’t see Prince bringing anything off the bench but I can definitely see Allen or even Miller starting in his place, but don’t try to convince me that this team is somehow better with Johnson now obviously being the odd man out. That just flat out makes no sense.
Maybe this is just temporary and Johnson will get his spot back as the reserve small forward. In my opinion he will be needed for the stretch run of the season and even the playoffs. That’s my hope and is definitely the hope of many in Grizz Nation as well. This is coming from someone who can never be labeled as a player fan but from someone who simply wants what is best for the team. I can’t see a situation where Tayshaun Prince’s minutes, even if he is a starter are more important or more valuable than Johnson’s. Johnson seems to be handling his recent lack of playing time with professionalism and has definitely been supportive on the bench. I’m sure that waiting for minutes in the NBA is definitely better than the alternative of filling up the stat sheet in the D League but all of this is still puzzling to me. I admit that fans may not be used to having a team with this much talent and I’m sure that it’s a challenge for coach Joerger as well. I also think that this goes back to Joerger hitching his wagon to Prince early in the season, which I highlighted in the last edition of “Noise From The Sain Asylum.” Coaches have their guys that they trust and depend on, that play sometimes even when no seems to understand and that definitely seems to be the case with Joerger and Prince. I still think that the fans, myself included should be patient because we are winning and are now currently in 7th place in the West. The fact that Johnson is now looking like the 11th man only shows how much pure talent we have on our team. Whether or not we agree or understand, the abundance of talent on this team is definitely creating a logjam. Davis and Johnson have without a doubt been caught up in the numbers game, and are definitely now Casualties of More.
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