James Johnson is exactly what the Miami Heat need

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 30: James Johnson
MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 30: James Johnson /

Despite minor struggles so far this season, James Johnson is the exact type of player the Miami Heat need.

James Johnson signed a new contract with the Miami Heat this offseason, and immediately fans were split down the middle about it. While half of Heat Nation enthusiastically applauded president Pat Riley for bringing the forward back, the other half thought that a four-year, $60 million deal was excessive.

Nine games into the 2017-18 season, and nothing has changed. People are either all in on the 30-year-old, or are ready for a trade.

The truth of the matter though is, the No. 16 pick is exactly what the organization needs.

Having first arrived in South Beach by way of a one-year, $4 million contract in the summer of 2016, James bought into the system right away. Though the former Wake Forest Demon Deacon showed flashes of potential throughout his time in the league, he never fully made the leap from a player on a brink, to trustworthy talent. He was misused by the Chicago Bulls, underutilized by the Toronto Raptors and didn’t find his groove with neither the Memphis Grizzlies nor Sacramento Kings, not having spent enough time there.

It wasn’t until he got a taste of Miami’s culture, that Johnson transformed into the player he could have been all along.  He got into “world class shape.” Found his other half in Tyler Johnson. And led the second unit with an unmatchable energy.

He finished the season having averaged 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steal a game, career-highs across the board. He saw time in 76 games, starting in five, and averaged 27.4 minutes of play.

It isn’t just his amazing on-court progression that makes him a perfect fit for the Heat though. Johnson’s mindset and attitude already align with that of a Heat Lifer. He even recently likened Udonis Haslem to being his Michael Jordan.

"“That’s somebody I look up to and I follow on how to really lead a team and really be a professional leader on and off the court,” Johnson said of why he was wearing Haslem’s face on a t-shirt. “That’s somebody that I really admire and look up to. So why not? It’s the same as a kid wearing a [Michael] Jordan t-shirt, I feel.”"

Johnson has that grit, that grind-it-out mentality, that the franchise has tried to instill within every player, the minute they walk through the door. But the Wyoming-native had it in him all along. He just needed the right system to bring it out.

"“JJ was one the most special things that I’ve been a part of in my coaching career,” Spoelstra said on the topic of how Johnson became co-captain this year. “To people on the outside it might have been surprising but when we actually named him captain it was a no-brainer. He has that type of voice, purity, intention and leadership qualities to take on that role.”"

So why is it that some still haven’t fully embraced the eight-year player?

Well, there’s an argument that he still isn’t consistent. For example, while Johnson recorded 21 points against the San Antonio Spurs, he came up with just two points versus the Minnesota Timberwolves. But with a player like him, stat-lines don’t often tell the whole story. Especially when only looking at one category. Because alongside those two points came seven rebounds, showing that Johnson was still fully engaged that evening. Even if he wasn’t putting up shots.

Next: The Miami Heat squeeze past the Los Angeles Clippers, 104-101

Is James Johnson still a work in progress? Absolutely. But is he exactly the type of player the Miami Heat need? You bet.