Wednesday, June 16, 2010 Bradley: Does Joe Johnson want to share? Does he want to win?

In an otherwise fine summation of the questions surrounding the (still) intertwined futures of Joe Johnson and the Atlanta Hawks, Mark Bradley, in addressing the valid question of how much Joe Johnson is willing to sacrifice to play for a winner, perpetuates a common misconception: that Johnson's relative ability and value is defined by his role rather than his production.

How much does Joe Johnson want to win? Here’s the key question. He’s already a rich man, and he’s about to become a richer one. Does he want to retire with a bunch of points and a huge financial portfolio, or does he want to re-invent himself as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have? Each of them was what Johnson is — a great player/main man who could never sniff a title. They changed because they cared more about winning. We’re about to learn what motivates Joe Johnson.
If Joe Johnson wants to be a key, complementary player a championship team, he needn't re-invent himself. He just needs to play on a better team* than he ever has in Atlanta. His peak value is closer to a thirty-something, re-invented Allen, Pierce, or Garnett than any of them at their peak. All four were main men. Only three were great.

*A category which could well include the 2010-11 Hawks.

Despite the amount of time the ball's spent in his hands, only twice (2006-07 and 2009-10) in five seasons in Atlanta has Johnson averaged 20 points per 36 minutes. Ray Allen averaged 20 points per 36 minutes for eight straight seasons before joining the Celtics at the age of 32. Paul Pierce averaged 20 points per 36 minutes for seven straight seasons before Allen and Garnett joined him in Boston. Both Pierce and Allen were (and are) far more efficient scorers than Johnson, were better rebounders than Johnson in their primes, Pierce, in his prime, posted similar assist rates to Johnson, and Allen, in his prime, turned the ball over as infrequently as Johnson. Even Kevin Garnett, whose value as a defender and rebounder dwarfs that of Johnson to the degree that the two are thoroughly incomparable as players, scored and earned assists at a slightly higher rate in Minnesota than Johnson has in Atlanta.

Joe Johnson's career-best PER is 19.5*. Garnett has bettered that in 12 of his 15 seasons and posted a 19.4 PER this season. Ray Allen had a PER of at least 20.6 for eight straight seasons from the age of 24 to 31. Paul Pierce had a PER of at least 19.2 for each of his first ten seasons in the league.

*And that came in his injury-shortened 2006-07 season. His full-season best is the 19.3 he posted last season.

As a further point of comparison, Al Horford's career-best PER is 19.4. Josh Smith's is 21. They're four and five years younger than Johnson, respectively. Those two could form a fine triumvirate* with Johnson for the next couple of years. Unfortunately, that attractive scenario is not an option for the Hawks. Cap mismanagement and waste of resources have left them two unattractive opions: pay Joe Johnson for the next five years as if he's the franchise player he's never been at any point in his career** and is highly unlikely to become in his 30s, or, refuse to overpay Johnson in either the short- or long-term while also lacking the ability to replace his very real and useful production.

*One that would still leave the Hawks short both a Rajon Rondo and a Kendrick Perkins if one assumes championship aspirations, but that speaks more to larger problems.

**That it's almost impossible to imagine Johnson being underpaid for his production is also the argument for him securing his financial future this summer, consequences be damned--a decision I would not criticize.

Choosing the least damaging path for franchise must begin with evaluating Johnson's production against his contemporary and historical peers who have been given similar, primary roles rather than against the
2004-05 Atlanta Hawks. The void he filled for that team no longer exists in Atlanta.


Aaron said...

"Choosing the least damaging path for franchise must begin with evaluating Johnson's production against his contemporary and historical peers who have been given similar, primary roles rather than against the 2004-05 Atlanta Hawks. The void he filled for that team no longer exists in Atlanta."

^^^Have you done this in one of your blogs, Bret? I've personally made statistical comparisons to guys like Vince Carter and Richard Hamilton, so I'm curious as to your take on how he'll perform for the next 5 years.

Keith Box said...

I don't know about Vince, but a lot of people have compared him to Richard Hamilton. To me, the difference between the two may be that Joe was asked to take on a bigger role than Richard was. They are likely very similar players in many ways, but when Richard went to Detroit, he was not the focal point of the offense. They didn't have that one dominant offensive player, but they got great production from the trio of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, and Rasheed Wallace along with good production from those around them. The question is, can a Hawks trio of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford with Joe having less of the scoring burden on him be similar to the trio in Detroit? That trio in Detroit won a championship, and it was like a breath of fresh air to see a team without a star player win a championship. Rasheed Wallace had the highest PER on that team, and it was round 18.8.

Bret LaGree said...

I don't have a projection system but my best amateur guess about Joe's future is 1 or 2 years like the last five then a decline. I'm really concerned about the drop in his free throw rate this past season as a harbinger of an inability to create space even for the jumper.

Those who do have projection systems are more negative but Joe's had a unique career.

As for comparisons, Vince Carter has always been more productive than Joe but far less likeable. Rip Hamilton, like Steve Smith who I've also seen people use as a comp, is a major red flag for signing Joe to a near-max deal. Hamilton fell off (though the Pistons did, too) at 30. Steve Smith saw both his usage rate and production plummet when he left Atlanta for Portland at age 30, though circumstances played a role there as well.

jrauch said...

I think with Joe you have to very carefully weigh the long-term impact of yet another badly thought-out contract on this roster. Bibby and to a lesser extent Marvin (I'm still stumped as to what kind of player Marvin really is) hamstring the roster to a large degree, though they didn't look like outrageous signings at the time. I'm still befuddled why we have Bibby on the books for another 2 years.

And if Joe falls off a cliff production wise (I think his plummeting free throw rate is a harbinger of what's to come) then I still think a sign-and-trade is our best long-term option, despite the short-term pain.

Unknown said...

To be quite honest, I'm not seeing any upside to signing Joe to a deal longer than 3 years. I would rather sign Joe to a 3/50 than to a 5/75, as I don't think he'd be able to contribute anything down the road. I'm aware that he would likely reject a 3/50, in which case I think the financial flexibility trumps the skills he brings.

jrauch said...

Given the past year, I struggle to see what Joe brought to the table over, say, John Salmons or a Kevin Martin.

Keith Box said...

Michael Cunningham has mentioned that the Hawks and Josh Childress are both looking at sign and trade possibilities. I bring that up to mention this. Do you think making Josh Childress happy and resigning him could help offset a potential loss of Joe Johnson?

Personaly, I think it would be a mistake to cut ties with Josh Childress, especially if it looks like Joe won't be returning. With the new offense that will emphasize ball movement and player movement without the ball, Josh is just the kind of player this team needs. When he was here, Josh was the best player on the team at moving without the ball. He was always able to get himself open, but he rarely had someone that could take advantage of that on the team. I'm of the opinion that Josh could be a 15-18 PPG guy in this style of offense with a point guard like Jeff Teague who will penetrate the lane and find the open man. The big question with Josh is whether he can give us the perimeter defense we need.

If it were up to me, I would be strongly considering putting a bigger priority on resigning Josh Childress than resigning Joe Johnson.

Anonymous said...

I say Joe should walk away, no Sign-n-Trade, and tell all of yall to kiss his A$$. Bret's continued negative articles on Joe will be replaced by boredom filled articles about a bottom dwelling Hawk team wishing they were back in the playoffs. Bret's job will be easier because the season will end early April and he can start his season recaps of what each player did in 2010-11 and start talking lottery again.

Bret LaGree said...

Outstanding first comment. Please stick around, dbracy007, but also, please, refrain from using your license to kill on me.