Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Basketball Prospectus: Pelton: Summer 2010 Preview

It's always nice to have someone provide sound data to back up something I've been railing about for a long time. The projections and comps* for Joe Johnson are not encouraging and could serve as a warning to any team considering paying him a lot of money over the next several years. The SCHOENE projection system** projects Johnson to be less valuable over the next three years than the following fellow free agents...
  • LeBron James
  • Dwyane Wade
  • Chris Bosh
  • Manu Ginobili
  • Amare Stoudemire (should he opt out)
  • David Lee
  • Rudy Gay
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Paul Pierce (should he shock everyone and opt out)
  • Carlos Boozer
  • Tyrus Thomas
  • Raymond Felton
  • Ronnie Brewer
  • Marcus Camby
  • Shaquille O'Neal
  • Brendan Haywood
There are a couple of factors at play here. First, Johnson's statistics have never matched his reputation. Second, players of Johnson's ilk--above-average starting wings--have tended to decline in a hurry in their early 30s. By year three, just two of Johnson's top 10 comparables (Steve Smith and Jalen Rose) were offering their team any kind of value. A max deal for Johnson could end up very ugly.
Now, I don't think Joe Johnson will actually be less valuable than all of those guys but the odds are he will be less valuable than many of them and I think it's unlikely that the value of his performance will not match the cost of his contract before the deal ends (and I think most people agree, though the point at which this is expected to occur is a reasonable matter of debate) should he sign a max or near-max contract.

Which is what makes it a shame both that the Hawks never acquired sufficient assets during Johnson's prime to acquire an equally good or better player to pair with Johnson and that they've put themselves in a cap situation where re-signing Johnson for more money than he can reasonably hope to be worth may be the lesser of two evils.

Joe Johnson turns 29 in four months and five days. He's averaged at least 39.5 minutes per game for each of the last six seasons (during which he missed just 28 games total) and is averaging 37.9 minutes per game so far this season.

Should the Hawks gamble on signing Johnson, getting one more good year out of him and then attempt to trade him before he craters in attempt to rebuild the team as Al Horford's extension eats up most of the cap space the expiration of Jamal Crawford's contract would create?

Or, would they be better off letting another team win the bidding war for Johnson by agreeing to a sign-and-trade with Atlanta, hoping to find a bargain free agent, and (finally) getting something of value for the rights to Josh Childress?

I don't know the answer. This franchise has built a playoff team by making a series of decisions that counter my deepest beliefs about how to build a championship-quality NBA team. Rick Sund may have a plan to extricate the franchise from the corner it's in (and that he largely inherited) that I cannot grasp and it may work perfectly. Or it might not work at all but even that wouldn't mean it was a bad plan, just one I couldn't grasp beforehand. Either way, we're in for a fascinating (and, I predict, a contentious) off-season. It'll be intersting but I can't say I look forward to it.

*I missed this excellent FanPost by YaoPau on Blog-a-Bull two weeks ago that compares Johnson to other big guards in their late 20s and early 30s. It's worth your time.

**Which accurately projected Mike Bibby's ineffectiveness and Josh Smith's resurgence before the season.


Anonymous said...

Makes total sense that a 37 year old player averaging 12-6, several players that playoff teams either gave up on or traded for little more than cap room and players over 30 that don't even average 30 minutes a game would be better than Joe Johnson over the next few years.

Bret LaGree said...

Isn't that what makes the projection results and the comps interesting, though?

CoCo said...

If I genuinely felt like this team was knocking on the doorsteps of a championship then I'd be fine with them overpaying Joe, but I don't believe this team as presently utilized is a championship contender. When they play the "right way" I believe they can stand toe to toe with anyone (except Orlando for whatever reason) but they often times don't play the right way and Joe is the main reason why. The ball completely stops moving at times when he's in the game. Yeah he'll have good numbers and it's easy for outsiders to say well it's not his fault they lost, but those of us who watch the Hawks faithfully see the collapse happening and we're used to it. We're more than willing to assign blame to Joe whereas others are not.

Anonymous said...

But as Bret has pointed out many times, the problem isn't Joe as much as just the Iso-Joe mode that he gets in so often. As Horford and Smith continue to mature into better players, I have to believe that they will eventually stand up to Joe and start making a stink if the current pattern of almost completely ignoring them at the end of close ball games continues.

I think the problem is with Woody more than anything - he needs to put more effort into creating sets on offense that we can run in the halfcourt and late in games that manufacture points instead of just letting them run whatever they want.

Maybe I'm alone in this, but I think Joe Johnson is pretty close to a max-contract player if he could fit within an offense and just let the game come to him instead of forcing the action. He's at his best when he plays unselfishly and lets others set him up in position to make the unguarded corner three or the drive into the lane for the and-one. People get so caught up in what he isn't that they forget about what he is - a tall, above average defensively SG with good range who is deadly when given open shots and at least a decent player around the rim.

CoCo said...

I feel like his "defensive prowess" has been greatly exaggerated. He has not been good at keeping his guy in front of him this season and a lot of the time he rarely bothers it seems. He isn't as bad as Jamal or Bibby, but he's been bad in my opinion. He could put a little more effort into it at the very least.
You made your points on "if" he is willing to do certain things. We'd all agree with that, except I don't think the "if" is coming. Especially not during a contract year. As long as the offense runs through Joe, this team is a second round out. Neither Josh nor Al has it in them to demand the ball. I certainly hope they develop that trait though. The offense works so much better when the ball moves.
Joe is not a max player. Even if he has the playoff series of his life, my opinion on that will not change. He gets the most opportunities of anyone on the team on offense and he's still not shown me that he's 7 or 8 million bucks better than the supposed second best player on the team. Although, I'm not really of the thinking that Joe is the best player on this team, but that's another story for another day.

Anonymous said...

I'd agree that Joe isn't a candidate for the all-NBA defense team or anything, but I think he brings alot to the table just with his size and mobility that allow him to guard 4 positions on the court. He isn't always engaged and doesn't give maximum effort all the time, but on the other hand he plays a ton of minutes a night, is usually matched up against the opposing team's best non-big, and is (for better or worse) the primary scorer in crunchtime. Especially when the lineup includes Bibby and Crawford, he has to pull a gigantic load on the defensive end to make up for the fact that neither of them could guard a wet paper bag. Maybe he would have more energy for defense if he let others take up some of the load on offense, but that's something that's mostly of his own creation.

As far as Smith and Horford not demanding the ball, perhaps you missed the quotes from just this last game against the Jazz where Smith complained about the isolation and selfishness on offense and Horford went out of his way to repeat that and agree. That's been somewhat of a theme throughout the year.

And I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on his value. In an era where role players are earning crazy money to deliver much less than what Joe does, I wouldn't be shocked if he was paid something approaching a max contract.

CoCo said...

For a game I am glad they demanded the ball, but that has to be a consistent thing going forward. They, as are the rest of the teammates quite content to let Joe bring the offense to a screeching halt.
As far as the contract goes. There are several that the ownership group can look at if they need reference for what happens when you give a pretty good player a max contract. I understand paying Joe as much as they did the first time, but this time it needs to make sense. Liek I said earlier, it would be different if we were on the doorstep of a championship, but as currently utilized we are not and that is not all Joe's fault, but he is a Robin not a Batman.

rbubp said...

More than just being the primary scorer, Joe is the guy the other team HAS to defend, usually with two players, virtually everywhere on the court. No other player on the Hawks can command more of the other team's resources on both offense and defense, and that alone is why Joe is the best player on the team. (Crawford comes close but is not as a good of a passer, shoots himself out things, cannot post up, and can't defend at all.) While I agree with CoCo's assessment that he doesn't always play as hard on defense as he could, and the iso-Joe's issues are well-documented, I think it would almost be beneficial to see him out of the lineup for a few games just to see how much the team would be affected.

'Cause I'll tell you now, the very threat of the guy makes shots for everyone else. Joe can get to any place on the court he wants to and can make shots from anywhere, and he can post up. If the Hawks had a better scorer than Crawford to match him with, especially in the post, such that Joe could not be double-teamed, the guy's numbers would be much much better.

I don't think he's the second coming. But the best player the Hawks have? Right at this moment, without a doubt.

The Casey said...

I don't have a problem with Joe being a max player for a year or two. However, max money over 4-6 years is I think too much. By the end of that deal I don't think he'll be worth the money.

Also, I question how much of the iso-Joe is Woody and how much is Joe. People seem to think that Joe is fine being a second or third option on offense, and he may be, for a quarter or so. But remember, he was a second/third option on a very good Phoenix team before he came to Atlanta. He came out publically and said he wanted to come to Atlanta and that he wanted to be The Man. I just wonder how he'll react over the course of a season/seasons if he's no longer the best scoring option. Which I think he won't be after a few years. Which is why I wouldn't give him huge money for more than 2-3 years.