Celtics’ Johnson has become a necessary defensive presence

Where would the Celtics be without Amir Johnson?
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

Boston Celtics big man Amir Johnson was acquired to protect the rim and give his new team the defensive presence they sorely lacked a year ago. 

Johnson’s been a force in the paint all year, but foot injuries have prevented him from being a consistent nightly influence. Lately, everything’s looking like Boston’s front office and coaching staff envisioned it would. 

When healthy, he’s arguably the Celtics’ most important defensive player. Here’s ESPN Boston with more:

According to Basketball Reference, Johnson ranks seventh in the NBA in defensive box plus/minus — an estimate of the defensive points per 100 possessions that a player contributes above a league-average player. Johnson sits behind a group of big men that includes Tim Duncan, Ian Mahinmi, Hassan Whiteside, Pau Gasol, DeAndre Jordan and Draymond Green. Johnson is 24th in ESPN's similar defensive real plus/minus, a list in which many of those same names sit at the top.

Johnson’s on/off splits are impressive, and so are his rim protection stats. But so much of his impact is totally unquantifiable. Johnson regularly knocks cutters off line, makes timely help rotations on the back line and can defend the pick-and-roll as effectively (and in as many ways) as anybody. 

He’s hugely valuable, and the tallest reason why Boston’s defense has been a top-3 unit for most of this season.

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