Minnesota Timberwolves: Grading James Johnson’s 2019-20 season

James Johnson of the Minnesota Timberwolves guards Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)
James Johnson of the Minnesota Timberwolves guards Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves acquired James Johnson at the trade deadline. In just 14 games, he’s played three positions for his new team with largely positive results.

Since the start of the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves made four trades. Two were on deadline day in early February, with one sending D’Angelo Russell to the Twin Cities.

James Johnson was acquired in the less-sexy, non-blockbuster deal that went down around the same time as the Russell deal, but it was a sneaky move nonetheless that accomplished several things for the Wolves.

Minnesota moved out a true center who only loosely fit their preferred style of play moving forward in Gorgui Dieng, acquiring a switchable big man with more of a demonstrated ability to knock down 3-pointers. It also added a player with both playoff experience and a reputation for on-court toughness and having an edge that is much-needed for the Wolves, all while shaving a bit of money off the cap this year and roughly $1.2 million off of next year’s cap number.

Johnson apparently reported to training camp in Miami a bit out of shape and was out of the rotation for much of the year after being a major part of the Heat the previous three years.

After getting to Minnesota, Johnson began as the backup center behind Karl-Anthony Towns. After Towns’ injury, Johnson started started a game at center and continued to play some backup center behind Naz Reid. He also ran the offense at times before Jordan McLaughlin‘s emergence, but has now settled into something of a swing role as the primary backup big, playing both the 4 and the 5.

With the Timberwolves, Johnson has shot the ball better than usual. Both his field goal (50 percent) and 3-point (37 percent) marks would be career-highs if they held up over the course of an entire season. Most of his rate-based stats are in line with what he’s done throughout his career, including grabbing 10.3 percent of rebounds. His assist rate is up slightly but so is his turnover rate.

While he hasn’t been able to hold down a consistent role in Minnesota, it’s given the Wolves a glimpse at exactly the kind of value that Johnson brings: versatility, and tough, solid play at each position. Despite his early-season issues in Miami, Johnson has largely had a reputation for being a good locker room presence throughout his career.

2019-20 Season Grade: A-

It’s tough to complain about what Johnson has provided the Wolves in his 14-game tenure. When not over-extended, Johnson can hold his own at both the 4 and the 5 and switch onto 3s with little problem.

Outside of a few too many sloppy turnovers, Johnson has been a solid contributor on offense, too. It’s clear that he can stick as a backup big man with the ability to run the offense in stints off the bench.

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Johnson has a player option for next year that clocks in at just over $16 million. The Wolves can expect Johnson to pick that up, and he’ll either stay on the roster as an important part of the bench or be moved around the trade deadline if the Wolves are out of contention.