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Effective defense needn’t be obvious or demonstrative. Amir Johnson exercises his influence in relative quiet.

By Rob Mahoney
September 12, 2016

Effective defense needn’t be obvious or demonstrative. Johnson exercises his influence in relative quiet, shuffling through his assignments with balance and awareness. The way that Johnson moves conveys a clear understanding of space and how to navigate it; he always seems to be in the mix, shading this way or that to challenge an offense’s development. Want rim protection? Johnson will lurk behind plays and dart over to alter a layup attempt. Need pressure on the perimeter? Johnson is perfectly comfortable showing on the pick-and-roll and hanging with quicker guards until the defense resets. There’s value, too, in the fact that Johnson knows how to pick his battles. Opponents that don’t demand close coverage don’t get it. Half-hearted screens don’t automatically trigger his help, as Johnson will often guide his teammates through while maintaining good position. It’s always the little things—the box-out angles, the screening persistence, the feel for when his rotation might be needed—that separate Johnson from so many of his peers. The man has a nose for detail. (Last year: No. 89)

+ Allowed a similar % at the rim to blocks leader Hassan Whiteside (per Nylon Calculus)
+ Critical defender on one of the NBA’s top defenses
Little in the way of ball skills; reliant on cuts, rolls, and put-backs to score
Logged just 22.8 MPG last season, with some time ceded to small-ball alternatives

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