30Q: Is James Johnson the Answer at Small Forward?

2011-12 Statistics:

62 Games Played, 25.2 MPG, 9.1 PPG, .450 FG%, .317 3P%, 4.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.1 STL, 1.4 BLK

Contract Status:

1 year, $2.8 million remaining

In one of the more unheralded offseason additions in the NBA, the Kings managed to quietly acquire a potential steal at their weakest position for the low, low cost of a future 2nd round pick. Johnson wasn't necessarily fantastic for the Toronto Raptors last season, but he was starting to show some of the all-around talent that got him drafted 16th in the 2009 draft.

Now in Sacramento he enters a situation that could prove to be very good for his career. The Kings haven't had a Small Forward that they could depend on since Ron Artest left in 2008. Johnson, on the last year of his rookie contract, could lock the position up for a while if he builds on what he showed last season.

What Johnson was really able to provide last season was versatility. Johnson can do a bit of everything, and reminds me a little bit of a poor man's Josh Smith (not as good and not as explosive, but possessing a similar skillset). Johnson rebound, pass, steal and block shots. He was one of the best shotblocking Small Forwards in the league last year, and that skillset, as well as his good size, will likely mean that he'll also get stints at Power Forward throughout the year.

One thing that Johnson is not though, is a shooter. He doesn't shoot threes often, and when he does, he doesn't convert them at a good rate. This is a bit of a problem. Even if Johnson proves capable of being Small Forward, that leaves a big question as to who starts in the backcourt. If the team starts Isaiah Thomas and Tyreke Evans there, that lineup will be extremely poor at shooting, and more easily defensible. It's a similar situation with Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton. If Isaiah and Thornton are in the backcourt, that's a lot of size you're giving up in the backcourt, and while Isaiah is a defensive plus, Thornton is not.

Still, having more good players and having to figure out how to use them is not a bad thing, especially for a team that has been as talent-deficient as the Kings over the past few years. Johnson looks to be an upgrade over former King Donté Greene and current Kings Travis Outlaw and Francisco Garcia at the least, and may be better than John Salmons as well. Even if Johnson does not prove to be starter material, he'll still be an upgrade off the bench.

That shouldn't satisfy Johnson though. The starting SF spot is completely wide open and there for the taking. He has the most on the line with Free Agency coming up, and with a solid season in Sacramento he could be set for four or five more years. Even better, the Kings might finally have an solution for the troublesome SF spot. Johnson will have to build on his good year in Toronto, and expand his game to become a better shooter and overall defender. That's a lot to ask, especially of a relatively young player, but that's what it will take to earn (and keep) a prominent long-term role.

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