The Memphis Grizzlies got a win over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night, thanks in large part to their bench scoring 62 points, but the show was stolen yet again by NBDL signee James Johnson. Since being signed by the Grizzlies in mid December, Johnson has sparked a Grizzlies team that was mired in injury, and falling further and further out of playoff contention with each passing game. Minus his first game with the Grizzlies, in which he only played four minutes, Memphis is 3-2 since signing Johnson. He has given the second unit an athletic wing that can score in the lane, and defend his position. Johnson has played so well he has made starting small forward, Tayshaun Prince, look like he should be on the bench, and Johnson should be in the starting lineup instead.
I am on board with Memphis starting Johnson over Prince. The starting unit is still missing Marc Gasol, a player who can shoot consistently from 18 feet, and with Prince and Tony Allen on the floor together defenses can clog the paint to double Zach Randolph, and prevent Mike Conely from getting in the lane with dribble penetration. When Johnson is on the court in place of Prince the Grizzlies are in a better position to win. In the two games Johnson started, the Grizzlies have won both, and he had a plus-minus of positive 10, in the last five games that Prince has started the Grizzlies are 1-5, and Prince has a plus-minus of negative 34.
The sample size for this theory is obviously small; Johnson has only started twice, and only played five games in which he registered more than four minutes of playing time. Not even taking into account the numbers from this small sample, Johnson is a better fit because of his size, athleticism, and shooting ability. He crashes the glass, gets loose balls, alters shots, and can knockdown open jumpers. Not including the first game when he barely played, Johnson is averaging 10.2 points per game, 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.6 steals, and 1.0 turnovers. And he isn’t just a stat-sheet stuffer, he is also efficient; Johnson is 19-32 from the field and 7-15 from three. I know it’s early, but I think we can all admit James Johnson is the best NBDL mid-season signee since Jeremy Lin created ‘Linsanity’ three seasons ago.
On Saturday night the Grizzlies found themselves down at the end of the first quarter, Johnson checks in the game, immediately hits a three, assists on a Mike Miller three, grabs a couple of rebounds, and before you know it the Grizzlies are up five. This is the effect Johnson has on every game he has played for Memphis. He gets the energy flowing among his teammates, shots start to fall, deflections start to happen, and the Grizzlies score more points. We have already established the sample size is small, but sometimes you can just see what works, you don’t have to wait for the numbers to tell you so. For Memphis’ sake, I hope they take a step back and do what their eye’s are telling them before it is too late.
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