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Amir Johnson – NBA’s most underrated?

Last week, I wrote on Pat Beverley, one of the more underrated players in the league. But if I had to name one person who I consider to be the most underrated player in the association, the first name that would pop out is Amir Johnson.

Let’s go through why.

As a closeted Raptors fan, I got to see Amir’s emergence from a nobody scrub into the leading big on a 3rd place in the Eastern Conference playoff team. He never put up big box score numbers, but ever Raptors fan that watched him loved him. I don’t think there’s a single more universally appreciated player on the team. But when asked about it, nobody really knows why.

The fact is, among players playing 31 minutes or less, Amir Johnson might be the best in the entire league. His impact reminds me a lot of James Harden in his final year of OKC – where all his advanced metrics were through the roof, but his box score numbers were fairly run-of-the-mill in about 29-31 minutes of gameplay. Let’s go through some of the advanced metrics that really show Amir’s incredible impact.

First and foremost, is RAPM. Amir is famous amongst NBA advanced stat-heads because he’s an absolute mainstay among the NBA elite in his RAPM numbers. This year, his absurd +4.2 non-prior informed RAPM ranks him 9th in the entire league, a notch below Conley and Curry. Last year? +4.7. The year before? +3.0. 2011? Still +3.4. Any way you slice it, RAPM has Amir Johnson among the league’s elite year after year after year.

Now let’s get something straight: RAPM is the best metric we have available to determine how well a player is doing in a particular role. In this case, it means Amir’s 30 minutes a game is better than any other player playing similar minutes. However, that doesn’t mean he’d put up a similar impact playing as a 35 MPG starter on a high USG rate – but if he makes the transition like James Harden did, he could be in the conversation for a top 3 PF in the league.

But anyway, I digress. Let’s look at some other juicy numbers. The Raptors have an ORTG of 111.7 with Amir on the floor, and a DRTG of 105.6. With Amir off, those numbers do a 180 to 107.1 and 106.7 respectively. With Amir on the floor, the Raptors absolutely dominate the opponent – with him off the floor, they’re breaking even. Funnily enough, none of the basic team metrics change. The Raptors eFG is roughly the same with him on or off. So too are rebounding numbers, opponent FG, fouls, turnovers, and damn near every other metric. It’s actually pretty eerie because according to those metrics, the Raptors see no tangible difference with him on or off the floor. So how do we explain the huge RAPM and the large discprenancy in net RTG?

Intangibles.

It’s the biggest buzzword in the NBA, but nothing describes it better than Amir. People always say that intangibles like setting screens, motivating your teammates and intimidating the opponent don’t show up on the stats. Well, these numbers show that they do. Unlike other “intangible” players like Andre Iguodala, Amir’s influence on box score metrics are negligible – but his dirty work is SO crucial to what the Raptors are doing, that he’s arguably the most important player on that team.

 
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