We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2012-13 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.
Folk hero. Fan favorite. Stopgap. Stringbean.
Chris Johnson was all these things and more for the Timberwolves this season. He was, in some ways, a supremely concentrated basketball experience, delivering block after block or dunk after dunk every time he saw the floor and yet not really seeing the floor all that much. Just take, for example, this litany of throwdowns he generated against the Houston Rockets in his season debut on January 19:
In the 30 games he played this season, he only averaged 9.5 minutes per game. But per 36 minutes he averaged 14.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.5 blocks. He shot 64 percent with an above-average PER of 18.4 and put up a kind of silly offensive rating of 119 points per 100 possessions while allowing 101 points per 100 possessions. A net rating of 18 is nothing to sneeze at.
And there’s more. In the restricted area, Johnson shot 81.4 percent. For comparison’s sake, Derrick Williams only managed 58.1 percent in the restricted area. Hell, PEKOVIC only managed 60.8 percent down there. Some of that, certainly, comes from the fact that he isn’t asked to be a focal point of the offense, but it also shows that when he is getting shots at the rim, he’s finishing them.
When he saw the floor, he thrilled fans with his alley-oop finishing and emphatic blocks. He also showcased a jumper that was somewhat inconsistent but featured the kind of high release that makes LaMarcus Aldridge such a tough cover.
All of which makes you wonder: Why didn’t he see more playing time for a Wolves team that was not only short on players, but often short on the kind of feelgood energy that Johnson brought?
Well, for one, Adelman always seemed reluctant to put Johnson on the floor for extended minutes against the league’s stronger power forwards and centers. Johnson is listed at 6’11” and 210 pounds, which seems generous, given that Pekovic is listed at the same height and 290 and looks to be about three times the width of Johnson. We saw Johnson doing well when he was initially signed out of the D-League and then on occasion when he was brought in for very specific assignments and minutes. It was hard not to think of what he could do with more. But ultimately, I think Adelman was right to not lean too heavily on Johnson this season. More playing time likely would have exposed his weaknesses. Sometimes folk heroes are folk heroes because we know so little about them, the facts of their stories stripped away and replaced with legends.
So what happens for Johnson next season? I, for one, would like to see him stick around. With a full offseason of work, he could likely gain strength—if not mass—and also put in the work necessary to make that midrange jumper a threat. In a league that’s increasingly going small, he could play a role as a long but quick power forward capable of finishing on the break and providing weakside defensive help on a team that lacks rim protection in its starting lineup. I doubt retaining him would have much of an impact on the bottom line when it comes to re-signing players like Pekovic and Budinger, and the above-listed qualities make him a completely competent fourth or fifth guy in the frontcourt rotation.
Plus, I want to get a chance to push my first-and-last-initials-inspired nickname for him, “The Siege.”