"The only thing that makes me nervous about all this is that Amir's just so good," McHone said of Skyforce forward Amir Johnson, who is on assignment from the Detroit Pistons, supposedly, for the remainder of the season. "I just don't see how he's not putting in minutes up there. I think he's one of the best fullcourt big men I've seen play. I mean, I love him. I love Detroit to death for leaving him here because he is fun to watch. He's fun to be around."
How good is he?
"He's got to be one of the best players to have ever been on this team," McHone said, who coached arguably the franchise's best team to a mark of 47-9 in 1997, if not the best to set foot in the Arena, longtime Skyforce owner Greg Heineman added, presumably for a minor league game, that is.
Since I've seen the team play less than 20 times ever, I'm not qualified to agree or disagree, let alone establish parameters of what constitutes the best. But, for what it's worth, Johnson said he's markedly better than he was during a stint in the D-League last year and Will Blalock, a Pistons guard also on assignment in Sioux Falls, said that Johnson is better now than he was before joining the Skyforce. ...
Sure, the numbers are great - the 6-foot-9 Johnson is averaging 19.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks and the team is 16-4 with him in the line up - but every game he makes at least one play that leaves you speaking in tongues. ...
In the third quarter of last Friday's 34-point effort, Johnson won the race to a missed free throw, tossed it to a teammate while sailing into the front row, regained his footing and bolted to the basket to catch an alley-oop.
On Saturday, when he finished two assists and three blocks shy of a quadruple-double, he threw a one-handed bounce pass in transition that covered nearly half the court - somehow avoiding a well-positioned defender - to teammate Stephen Graham on the doorstep for an uncontested jam. Later, he snagged a loose ball off his shoe tops in traffic, led the fastbreak down the floor and delivered a behind-the-back pass to Robert Hite for a layup.
A. Sherrod Blakely may not like Johnson's defense ... but Blakely has also not seen Johnson play more than a handful of minutes since the exhibition season. I'm not surprised that Johnson has improved since going down -- it is the Development League after all -- though I get the feeling defense isn't stressed very much.
Johnson will be a restricted free agent this summer, and he was garnering interest around the league even before his most recent stint in the minors. That, combined with his eye-catching performances of late, will undoubtedly result in at least a handful of teams bidding for his services this summer. And why not? He's still young enough that it'd be the same as bidding on a first-round pick.
Honestly, I hope the competition for his services drives up his contract, not too much that Detroit won't be able to re-sign him, but just enough that when they do bring him back Flip Saunders (or, you know, whoever is coaching the team next year) will feel compelled to give him a regular spot in the rotation.