Fantasy Basketball: Miami's James Johnson Is Poised to Thrive

The versatile Heat forward has been sneaky good off the bench all year, and the injury to Justise Winslow could make Johnson a standard-league mainstay.

Justise Winslow's trip to the surgeon's table should prove a boon to the fantasy prospects of versatile veteran forward James Johnson.

A per-minute darling through his recent tenures with the Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies, Johnson has been low-key solid this season for both the Miami Heat and for fantasy owners.

A closer look at Johnson's progress throughout the 2016-17 season shows that, with the playing time vacuum opened by the ailing Winslow, Johnson should move beyond fringe 12-team consideration to become a standard league mainstay.

Responding to Opportunity

The true hinge-point for Johnson's surge in productivity was, oddly enough, an earlier injury to Winslow, a nagging wrist problem that sidelined the young forward for a month in the early weeks of the season.

The table below splits the nine games Johnson played before Winslow's injury against the 23 games he has played since.

Before Winslow Wrist Injury 9 22 6.3 2.3 7.9 1.9 2.2
After Winslow Wrist Injury 23 26 9.4 3.5 12.8 2.7 3.6

It's clear that Johnson responded to his increased opportunity, maintaining his heightened production even as Winslow returned to the lineup in mid-December. What's especially notable here is the way that Johnson parlayed a four-minute-per-game increase in playing time into a near 50-percent increase in production across the board.

The attempts and assists numbers seem particularly instructive -- the splits here show a surge in Johnson's engagement with the offense, and the fantasy production on both sides of the ball has increased in kind.

Value Going Forward

To understand what we can expect from Johnson's fantasy value going forward, the table below interprets the post-November 15th numbers from the previous table into per-36 statistics and compares those numbers to the season-long per-36 numbers of three widely owned NBA forwards. These forwards, though not superstar names by any means, are all standard league mainstays -- they are ranked within the top 80 of Yahoo! season-long ranks, and all are owned in more than 85% of Yahoo! leagues.

Johnson's Per-36 After Winslow Wrist Injury17.
Player X Per-36 Season to Date13.
Player Y Per-36 Season to Date18.
Player Z Per-36 Season to Date20.

Johnson stacks up quite well here, posting arguably the strongest all around per-36 line of the four, especially when you consider the contributions in the sought-after categories of assists, threes, steals, and blocks.

Of course, per-36 numbers can be deceptive -- they promise more than tends to actualize. This limitation is apparent when we consider the players involved here: Player X is Thaddeus Young, Player Y is Tobias Harris, and Player Z is Harrison Barnes.

After all, these are all players with stable 30-plus minute roles, and none of these players pose the free-throw-percentage negative that Johnson represents: he's shooting under 60% on about 2.5 attempts per game a game across the season (Young has a similar make rate, but on far-less-damaging one attempt per game).

Still, Johnson's issues with efficiency at the line are offset by a strong season-long field goal percentage of nearly 50 percent on over 8.5 attempts per game. There's a chance that this regresses, of course -- his current 38 percent three-point-shooting percentage is the best of his career by some margin.

Caveats aside, there's real reason to be excited about Johnson going forward, especially if his cost is little more than a waiver claim or a modest FAAB allocation. The Winslow injury could very well inch Johnson closer to a stable 30-minute role with the Heat, and even with some efficiency regression, we could be looking at per-game production somewhere in the area of 15 points, 6 boards, over 3 assists, and over 4 combines threes, steals, and blocks.

Those aren't the sort of numbers that should be sitting on fantasy waiver wires for too long.