Championship Key Matchup #3: The Big Men
By John Krolik, @krolikjohn August 19, 2022
Trilogy: Amir Johnson
6’9, 253 Pounds
8.8 PPG/6.1 RPG/0.8 APG/0.1 SPG/0.5 BPG, 66.0% FG Percentage
What you see is what you get with Amir Johnson. That’s far from a bad thing. Amir Johnson is a very big man who looks like he wants to push people around and grab easy baskets at the rim. That’s exactly what he does.
Johnson has a knack for getting close to the basket and giving his teammates a passing lane. Once he gets the ball down there, it’s pretty much over. He will indeed shove his defender into the stanchion before laying the ball home or dunking it. If his defender manages to stay on his feet, he has remarkable touch around the rim for a man his size.
He shot 66% from the floor this season. Sometimes people will disdainfully call players like Johnson “one-dimensional,” but if it was easy to shoot 66% from the floor, everyone would do it. There’s a lot to be said for a player who knows what his strengths and weaknesses are, and diligently molds their game so that they’re using the former as much as possible and almost never trying to make the latter work.
Amir isn’t as much of a presence on the defensive end as he is on the offensive end. He totaled 49 rebounds, one steal, and four blocks for the season, while the ever-present Earl Clark ended up with 69 boards, 14 steals, and 11 blocks.
Basically, Amir Johnson may not be the most versatile player in the league. But when you need a guy to give you an automatic bucket when he gets the ball down low, he’s your man. That’s been just fine for Trilogy Coach Stephen Jackson, and it’s helped them get themselves one game away from back-to-back Championships.
Power: Royce White
6’8, 260 Pounds
9.8 PPG/6.8 RPG/4.0 APG/0.3 SPG/0.9 BPG, 45.8% FG Percentage
In contrast to Johnson, Royce White is not easy to categorize. He has the height of a wing but the size of a big, and he uses every single one of his 260 pounds to full effect. There are boulders who are easier to move than White, and he’s more than content to bang down low and score in the post on offense.
As effective as he is shoving people around under the basket and flipping it home, that’s not White’s primary offensive responsibility. As fearsome as White is when he’s throwing his weight around, his main job on offense is to distribute the basketball.
White is good at his job. Only Dusan Bulut, Leandro Barbosa, and Franklin “Frank Nittty” Session averaged more assists per game than White this season. He’s trusted as the decision-maker from the high post on set plays. He keeps his head up when he’s bulldozing a poor soul underneath in case a double comes and opens up a teammate. If a Power player uses off-ball movement to get free, White will reward them by hitting them with an on-time, on-target pass.
Paint control and ball movement are the rocks upon which Power has built its church. It’s hard to imagine them being as successful as they’ve been with that playstyle without White. There isn’t another player in the league who combines being an interior presence with being a playmaker the way he does. His teammates are always moving, he’s always looking, and if teams respect his passing too much and leave his defender on an island, he’ll gladly run them over.
White hasn’t been as disciplined with his shot selection as Johnson has. He’s taken nine shots from three, all of which he’s missed, and his accuracy on jumpers outside the paint is lacking. Fortunately, he seems to have committed himself to getting inside more and more as the season has gone on.
Unlike Trilogy, Power uses a backup big man. I’ve written about Nikoloz Tskitishvili before. He had a lot of trouble getting it going early in the season. He found his mean streak in the middle of the season and became a real contributor off the bench. Unfortunately, he’s regressed over the last few weeks. He’s contributed a combined two points and one rebound over his last two games, and I don’t expect he’ll get many minutes in the Championship game. Still, Coach Nancy Lieberman has shown a tremendous amount of faith in both her rotations and her players, so she may well give Tskitishvili a chance to show what he can do with everything on the line.