In a tilt against the Bulls on Wednesday night that taught a lot about the Celtics, arguably the biggest lesson was one that not many people would expect.
Amir Johnson can shoot from the perimeter.
Now, maybe it’s a bit premature to start throwing him in with the likes of Peja Stojakovic, but the 6-foot-9 veteran showed a different dimension of his game than previously seen during his first year and change with the Celtics.
He attempted (and missed) one other 3-pointer this season, but after going 4-for-4 from deep, he now qualifies for league leader considerations in 3-point percentage. And believe it or not, he leads the league with an .800 3-point percentage.
“I don’t think I was on the scouting report for ‘Running Amir off the line,’ ” Johnson joked following the game. “It was just a good night for me.”
That’s not to say it will stay that way — because in all likelihood it won’t — but after Johnson almost never ventured out to the perimeter with the Pistons, but then wandered out more in his time with the Raptors, it probably shouldn’t be a total surprise he’s capable of pulling the trigger from downtown.
“I’m always able to shoot,” Johnson said. “Guys can shoot in the league. It’s just in our offense, you know? I try to always play team ball. I’m a very unselfish player. I look to pass first, but I was able to just find open spots and knock down shots within our offense.
“I prefer to roll and get that soft touch, but if guys are just laying off and giving me that much time, like [Robin Lopez] likes to sit in the paint, then I’m going to shoot the ball.”
Sitting in the paint is what made Johnson so effective.
With Al Horford — the usual suspect to skedaddle out to 3-point territory — sidelined (concussion) and Tyler Zeller in his place, it was more natural for Johnson to go out to the perimeter. The side effect of him doing that, however, was a much clearer lane for Zeller to grab rebounds, something he struggled with at times early in the game.
“I mean, he’s a shooter, you have to play him as a shooter,” Zeller said. “A lot of guys like to sag off and guard him instead of me, so really it makes my job a lot easier, because when he starts hitting shots they’ve got to play him and respect him as a shooter. And that really opens the lane a lot.”
For his other teammates who are more regarded around the league as shooters, it was as much of a relief to see him hitting shots as it was surprising.
“When he takes that long to release it, it’s probably going in,” Isaiah Thomas said. “He felt good. He got the right shots. We rotated the ball to him, he set his feet and knocked them down. He’d been talking all week about how he’s been shooting it.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was not as stunned as most everyone else — due largely to his behind-the-scenes view of Johnson’s work ethic and how much time he puts into his shot.
“I will say this: Amir Johnson comes in and shoots [3-pointers] after every practice with [assistant coach] Jay Larranaga,” Stevens said. “I think that when you watch Amir do an individual workout, whether it’s in the summer or the fall, people would be surprised at how many he makes. Not the people that came to tonight’s game for the first time, but people that watch on a day-to-day basis.”
Marcus Smart just wants to figure out Johnson’s pregame routine so he can get in on the action from deep.
“I was going crazy [on the bench],” Smart said. “I was like, ‘Whatever [Johnson] ate or drank last night, I want some of it.’ “