Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Season Review: Joe Johnson

In some respects, Joe Johnson is a microcosm for the Atlanta Hawks. He’s a franchise player only for a franchise of extremely limited ambition or exceedingly poor judgment. This is what you get for spending $50M+ and two first-round draft picks for the opportunity to build your team around the fourth-best player on a legitimately good NBA team: a season that consists of 37 wins and a first-round playoff loss by average of 12 points a game is considering (within the organization if nowhere else) a resounding success.

When Johnson left Phoenix for Atlanta he spurned a chance at a championship in favor of money and field goal attempts. He doesn’t appear to regret that decision. Which is fine. There’s nothing immoral about creating a life of extremely well-paid above averageness in your chosen endeavor. Were I particularly skilled in a specific, highly valued manner, I’d probably take a similar course.

Joe Johnson’s comfort level appears vast. Unlike the more efficient Joshes Smith and Childress or the more promising Al Horford, Johnson looks comfortable playing at a modest pace, methodically milking the shot clock, and hoisting a guarded jumper before the buzzer sounds.

Unfortunately, in the leadership vacuum that engulfs the Atlanta Hawks, Joe Johnson takes on the outsized importance of a franchise player and the guy who’s happy shooting a lot of difficult shots, barely making then losing in the playoffs, and not being challenged by his head coach or younger teammates gets a serious voice in one of the two most important decisions this franchise will make in the next five years. Joe Johnson’s opinion of Mike Woodson differs from my own:
"He's done a great job this season. I'd love for him and the coaching staff to come back. Hopefully we can really, really make that happen. They have done so many good things for us this season. I've learned so much from him and he's the main reason that attracted me to come here. Hopefully, we'll keep him and all of the other guys around.”
It’s possible that Joe Johnson is simply a really nice, polite guy who doesn’t really believe any of that except, one would hope, his final thought that presumably refers to re-signing Smith and Childress.

None of this diminishes the fact likelihood that Joe Johnson could be an extremely useful player on a good team. He does a number of things well and, at times, can bail out a team that’s struggling to create good shots in the half-court. Were he to prove to be comfortable abdicating the low block (not entirely, but for the most part) to Josh Smith and Al Horford and reap the benefit of the open looks they would create for him (Which, unlike the open shots he creates from the low post for Smith in particular, Johnson stands a decent shot of making.) the Hawks could be that good team that makes appropriate use of Johnson’s skills. If he’s not comfortable taking a different role (And a sensibly reduced one: Johnson has been in the top 4 of the NBA in minutes played in four of the last five years.) he still would have value as a trading chit for the next Hawks GM who will take over a franchise no longer reaping the benefit of Josh Smith and Josh Childress providing value far beyond the cost of their rookie contracts and obvious holes to fill in the areas of perimeter shooting, perimeter defending, and post depth.

Whatever my reservations about him in the grand, hypothetical scheme of things, Johnson is clearly the best player on the Atlanta Hawks as currently constructed. According to 82games.com*, the Hawks were almost a break even team (-0.9 pts/100 possessions) when Johnson was on the court and a dreadful team (-8.3 pts/100 possessions) when he was off the court. Two caveats: 1) Johnson played 84% of Atlanta’s minutes and they weren’t many important minutes that he sat out. 2) When Johnson was off the court, some combination of Josh Childress, Marvin Williams, an out of position point guard, Salim Stoudamire, Mario West, and Jeremy Richardson played the 2 and the 3. More than any other Hawk, Joe Johnson was better than the alternative(s) but that was not enitrely due to how much better than average he was. Even on a thoroughly thin bench, Billy Knight’s inability to acquire an NBA-quality backup for Joe Johnson stood out.

*According to the slightly more accurate (all possessions accounted for rather than estimated) Basketballvalue.com, the Hawks were -0.86 pts/100 poss with Johnson on the court and -8.05 pts/100 poss with him off the court. I’ll be using 82games.com’s numbers as a baseline for this series because they break down the on/off data so that one can look just at the Atlanta numbers for those involved in the Mike Bibby trade.

What other people thought...

Sekou Smith:
No player carried a bigger load for his team this season. Johnson played 41 minutes a night, usually defended by two and sometimes three players, yet still managed to lead the Hawks in scoring and made his second consecutive All-Star Game. After a summer filled with some much-needed rest, Johnson will have to be ready to lead the charge again next season.
Micah Hart credits Johnson with the Best Individual Offensive Performance, Regular Season Shot of the Year, and Post-Season Shot of the Year.

Next up: Josh Smith

Ballhype: hype it up!

5 comments:

CoCo said...

"Unfortunately, in the leadership vacuum that engulfs the Atlanta Hawks, Joe Johnson takes on the outsized importance of a franchise player and the guy who’s happy shooting a lot of difficult shots, barely making then losing in the playoffs, and not being challenged by his head coach or younger teammates gets a serious voice in one of the two most important decisions this franchise will make in the next five years. Joe Johnson’s opinion of Mike Woodson differs from my own:"

Yeah, this is a problem. I've not felt compelled to put a bow on the season just yet, but as I posted in a comment before, I totally agree with this.

Ron said...

In my mind the Hawks actually had 2 adequate backups for Joe (adequate enough at least to give him more rest than he got): Salim Stoudamire and Mike Bibby. A sane coach would have played Bibby and Law in the backcourt often with Joe on the bench. One of the keys to next season is whether Woodson or his replacement plays Law 20-30 minutes a game. I really liked his game in the playoffs. The kid needs more playing time.

Anonymous said...

I followed Law in college. Not sure why exactly as I am a GT fan, but nonetheless I always though he had a great deal of talent and very good head on him when it comes to playing the point. I was ecstatic when we got him because we needed a point guard so damn bad and along with Horford I was very optimistic about our season and us winning at least 35 games (my official call here in the workplace).

Obviously Woodson and I don't see things the same and I have been very upset that he hasn't played at all this year. He didn't get anything resembling the amount of playing time a rookie of his caliber should get. The kid was well known for having a knack for making big time plays in big time moments so I see absolutely no reason whatsoever for Woodson not playing him more than he did, other than the fact that Woody is a complete failure in the coaching department.

As far as Joe Johnson goes, I think he is a great player when he wants to be and a head case when he doesn't. If he truly believes that Woodson is the reason why they made the playoffs, then one of two things is happening here. He either doesn't think that anyone on this team is good at the game of basketball, himself included, or he is simply not all there as there is no way you can attribute a five to ten game win increase each year to the coach. That should hapen by default because you are constantly drafting high and getting better and younger athletes for your team. A good coach would then take those players and that natural progression and push the expected win total by another five to ten wins.

I really hope JJ isn't the reason we get stuck with Woody for three more years.

-Jesse

Anonymous said...

as a season ticket holder who went to every game except one (the t wolves game)i cannot disagree with you more. jj is the main reason we made it to the playoffs and beat the celts three times. if he did not hit all those clutch shots all year who was going to hit them, jsmoove? marvin? quit drinking the haterade, hater.

Bret LaGree said...

Anonymous--

Thanks for reading and commenting.

I don't disagree with you at all that Joe Johnson is the main reason this team won 37 games in the regular season and 3 games in the playoffs.

However, he makes a lot of tough shots because he takes a lot of tough shots because the Hawks' offense doesn't function very well. I think an offense that featured Josh Smith setting Joe Johnson up with open jumpers would be better than the opposite which we suffered through last season.

Johnson was slightly below the league average in both eFG% ((FG + 0.5 * 3P) / FGA) and TS% (PTS / (2 * (FGA + 0.44 * FTA))). His passing , his defense, and the sheer number of minutes he plays make him a clearly above average player but far from a franchise player for a good franchise.

If NBA HotSpots would start working again I could finish up my Josh Smith post and (roughly) show how damaging those jumpers he took were to the offense.