It doesn't seem like that long ago that Amir Johnson's coach ...
Saunders, like the rest of us, is mystified at how much attention Johnson is getting, both from the media and fans. "Thirteen years ago, I had Kevin Garnett and at that time he was the first guy to come into the league from high school in like 20 years. Amir has gotten more publicity this year, a guy who’s never played, than Garnett did that first year, and here’s a guy who was the first high school guy in 20 years."
... and Detroit's local media were dumping on him:
I don't know what some people expect from this kid, but he's not Magic Johnson. He's not ready to be in the regular rotation and contribute 25 to 30 minutes a game. He's not going to be ready all year, is my guess. This isn't the Pistons' version of Cameron Maybin. Nobody's ever said he was the greatest prospect ever to come through the pike. He was the 56th pick in the draft, taken right out of high school. He wasn't the first overall pick. He's an extremely athletic but extremely raw kid.
My how times have changed. Now, his coach loves him ...
"Amir has been excellent," Curry said. "From top to bottom, he's had the best summer and (training) camp out of everybody. We told Amir this summer, exactly what we wanted out of him, whether he started or came off the bench. He's been great."
Amazing, isn't it, how adjusting one piece can make the entire puzzle come together.
Consider coach Michael Curry's decision to start Amir Johnson and bring Antonio McDyess off the bench. In one fell swoop, he:
• Enlivened his veteran starting unit with youthful vitality, speed and athleticism.
• Empowered Tayshaun Prince to play a larger role in the offense.
• Elevated McDyess from a No. 5 scoring option to a No. 1 or No. 2 option off the bench.
Regular readers of this site know where I stand on Amir's potential (potential All-Star at best, poor man's Tyson Chandler at worst), and because I've laid it on so thick in the past, I've actually tried to refrain from commenting on every little thing he did right (or panicking about every little thing he did wrong) in the preseason. But still, on the eve the season, it's a little surprising to read quotes like those above and see how many people are suddenly in Johnson's camp.
Of course, this is a double-edged sword. The good news is that he's guaranteed playing time for the first time in his career. The bad news? Now there's actually pressure to produce. Anything he brought to the table in the past was a pleasant surprise; now, he's expected to contribute nightly, playing hard while also playing smart.
I think he'll do just fine, but that doesn't mean there won't be growing pains. We saw this in the last three games of the preseason. In the sixth and seventh games, Johnson combined for 18 points, 13 boards, five blocks and just three fouls in 43 minutes. In the eighth game, he fouled out in just 15 minutes. (He also had seven boards, mind you, so it's not like it was a complete waste.)
In the meantime, try not to get too invested in the nightly peaks and valley's of Johnson's development, or the progress of the team as a whole. As Chauncey Billups recently explained, it's going to take some time for everything to come together.
"We aren't going to be a polished, well-oiled machine in the first 15 to 20 games," Billups said, "because we've got guys playing different roles and we have a new system.
"But we are going to be fine. We have a high basketball IQ here and we're going to figure it out, and we're going to be good. It's just going to take a little time."