The Memphis Grizzlies have been playing poorly this NBA season. At the time of this article’s publishing, the Memphis Grizzlies are below .500 at 13-17. Starting point-guard, Mike Conley, is leading the Grizzlies in points (17.3), and assists (6.3). Marc Gasol has been injured, but should be returning soon.
Since trading away Rudy Gay in January 2013, the Memphis Grizzlies have been weak at the three spot. Tayshuan Prince, of Detroit Pistons’ fame, lacks the quickness or speed to keep up with opposing small forwards. The cause of his physical struggles have less to do with injuries, but as a result of his age. During Monday’s home loss to the visiting Chicago Bulls, Prince scored three points and grabbed two rebounds in 19 minutes of action. His current season stats are as follows: 6.1 points per game, 3.0 rebounds per game, and 1.6 assists per game. Additionally, Prince is shooting a dismal 23.5 percent from the three-point line. This statistics prove that Prince’s better days are in Detroit.
The Grizzlies’ other option at the small forward position was Quincy Pondexter, a personable 6’6” forward from the University of Washington. Pondexter was impressive during the Grizzlies’ 2013 NBA Playoffs campaign. Specifically against the San Antonio Spurs, he was the only permiter player able to consistently score. Thus, Memphis Grizzlies’ ownership secured Pondexter to an ESPN-reported four-year deal worth $15 million. Unfortunately, Pondexter was having a troublesome season before suffering a stress fracture in his right foot. He is currently sidelined indefinitely after receiving foot surgery. Hopefully, once healthy, Pondexter will be able to become a successful "3-D" player similar to the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. A "3-D" player is a basketball player capable of playing good to excellent defense and able to knock down corner threes. These type of players are extremely valuable in today’s league.
Sensing the thinning depth at the small forward spot, the Grizzlies wisely signed James Johnson, a 2009 lottery pick with the Chicago Bulls. After five seasons of bouncing around between Chicago, Toronto, Utah, Sacramento, and Atlanta, Johnson may have found a permanent home in Memphis. Here’s why.
The Memphis Grizzlies are known throughout the league for their "grit and grind." The calculated defensive pressure and contagious hustle exhibited by the Grizzlies since Zach Randolph came to Memphis along with Tony Allen has been the Grizzlies’ speciality. However, since firing head coach Lionel Hollins, the Grizzlies have not been an effective defensive team. The rebounding, forced turnovers, and scrappiness that the Grizzlies formerly epitomized has sorely been missing. In the Grizzlies’ defense, Marc Gasol is a valuable asset that affects both sides of the ball—offensively and defensively.
James Johnson plays with grit and grind. He is a taller, younger version of Tony Allen, but with a better jump shot. In seven games with the Grizzlies, Johnson is shooting at 50-percent from the field and shooting at 39-percent from the three-point line. He is averaging 1.4 steals per game, 9.4 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, and 1.3 blocks per game. Although he is only averaging 2.3 assists per game, he can skillfully pass the ball. During the Chicago Bull’s loss on December 30th, Johnson grabbed a rebound, dribbled the length of the court, and dished a beautiful assist to Kosta Koufos for an easy slam dunk. Standing at 6’9”, Johnson can be a threat to opposing defenses with his dribbling and passing abilities.
A forward of that size that can handle the rock quickly breaks down defenses—that is why Lebron James is so successful.
Johnson can dribble, pass, shoot, defend, and hustle. How the Memphis Grizzlies found him in the developmental league before anyone else is amazing. Johnson’s current player efficiency rating is 23.75 (per-minute productivity). If he were to continue at this pace, Johnson would be in the same company of Indiana’s rising star, Paul George (23.02 PER) and Golden State’s sharpshooter, Stephen Curry (22.96 PER).
Johnson fits in perfectly, because he exhibits the type of work ethic and demeanor that Memphis residents connect with. He plays hard. He shows up to every game as though it were his last. His energetic play sparks his teammates and the crowd. He is actively involved in almost every single play—he doesn't take plays off. Similar to Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, James Johnson is gradually becoming a hometown hero. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he is a black belt in martial arts.
Follow the Memphis Grizzlies Examiner on Twitter: @Blackscholaronl