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Amir Johnson’s minutes are tied to fouls

Amir Johnson and his (lack of) playing time has been a frequent discussion on this site, and it's the topic of my latest article on HOOPSWORLD:

What does Johnson need to do to earn the coaching staff's trust? "I think just a total understanding of what we're doing," Flip Saunders said before Tuesday's game. "That and being more able to defend his position without getting in foul trouble. I think a lot of times, even when he's played games [in] 12 minute stints, he's picked up four or five fouls in that time."

Saunders is employing a bit of hyperbole - Johnson has tallied more than three fouls in a game only twice all year - but his point is still valid. Johnson is averaging just 8.1 minutes per game, but if you extrapolate his numbers over 36 minutes, he's averaging 4.1 blocks and 6.9 fouls.

Read the rest of the article for Johnson's reaction.

I'd also like to add this: as much as I'd like to see Johnson get more minutes, I just don't know where they'd come from. Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Jason Maxiell are playing very, very well. Plus, those three can play the four and the five, whereas Johnson isn't strong enough to match up with most centers (not to mention some stronger power forwards).

If this were some kind of computer simulation, I'd just input Johnson for 6-8 minutes a night no matter what, but there's something to be said for continuity and keeping the guys on the floor in rhythm, which is awfully hard to do when you're constantly pulling guys off the floor and using a 10- or 11-man rotation.

So how would I use Johnson? I'd pick my spots, giving him more time on the second game of a back-to-back, or when the opponent is deep into a long road trip. Basically, find a way to exploit his best talent, which is his athleticism. And hey, while we're at it, maybe run a few plays for him, even if they're the impromptu alley-oops that Tayshaun and even Rasheed get tossed their way now and then.

But overall? The starting lineup's minutes are down, Maxiell is enjoying a breakout year (even if he's hit the wall lately) and Johnson is getting into the game more often than not. So long as he doesn't get buried in the doghouse and sit indefinitely, there's really not much this realistic Johnson apologist can get upset about. Yeah, maybe fewer fouls would be nice, but that will come with both time and more respect from the refs, both of which are out of his hands.