The Brooklyn Nets were playing without two of their three generationally talented superstars against the Orlando Magic on Friday night. Kevin Durant was resting due to a shoulder injury, and Kyrie Irving remains sidelined. James Johnson was thrust into a prominent role due to the lack of depth.
A 34-year-old veteran that was brought in to add some toughness and savvy to this roster, Johnson had essentially fallen out of the rotation, playing in only brief spurts. Johnson was given a chance to prove he should be in this team’s short-term plans, and he took full advantage in the most impressive way possible.
Johnson recorded a double-double by scoring 17 points and hauling in 10 rebounds. The Magic may be very young, but they’ve invested a ton of resources in their frontcourt. It was one of the best bench performances we’ve seen all year from a team that isn’t exactly dominant in that area.
It also came during Blake Griffin’s questionable streak of play and the extended loss of Nicolas Claxton. Did Johnson successfully make a case for increased minutes? The Nets could stand to benefit from leaning on someone with his style of play.
Should the Brooklyn Nets lean on James Johnson?
Johnson may not have the most varied offensive game, but he can be automatic on floaters and jump hooks in the paint. The combination of Johnson and LaMarcus Aldridge inside has helped Brooklyn become one of the best mid-range teams in the game. The biggest roadblock to consistent playing time may be Griffin.
Griffin has a much higher offensive ceiling than Johnson, but he has played far below what has been expected of him this season. Until Griffin wakes up from whatever trance he is in, Johnson should get some minutes early in games. Even if he doesn’t average a double-double, he can still score at an efficient clip.
Johnson’s defense may not be amazing, but he can be a quality rim protector and on-ball defender for very brief moments. On a Brooklyn team that spent an entire offseason adding defensively-minded players around their three stars, Johnson should be able to fit right in.
He shouldn’t be given time over Griffin and Aldridge, but he could end up wiggling his way into smaller lineups on the back of this game. If Griffin continues to play poorly, Brooklyn may need to make a very hard decision and insert Aldridge and Johnson ahead of him.