Thursday, December 02, 2010

What Losing Joe Johnson Might Mean To the Atlanta Hawks

Soemtime today, Dr. James Andrews will cut Joe Johnson's right elbow open and remove a "loose body." Johnson will miss the next 4-to-6 weeks.

How much will the Hawks miss him?

It's fair to speculate that the Hawks won't miss the Joe Johnson that's been playing (and quite possibly been playing hurt) during the 2010-11 season. Johnson has been, despite maintaining a strong assist rate and rarely turning the ball over, the weak link of the Atlanta offense thus far due to the combination of his high usage rate and low true shooting percentage.

Jamal Crawford17.256.223.1

Jamal Crawford and Josh Smith have proven themselves capable offensive players with fairly high usage rates. Al Horford is in the process of posting, for a third straight season, both an increased usage rate and true shooting percentage. Both Mike Bibby and Marvin Williams have been efficient enough so far this season that the team could survive them trading some of that efficiency for increased production.

Plus, with Larry Drew's motion offense now installed, the Hawks do not rely on Joe Johnson to create shots, both for himself and others, to the degree they have in the past which should make the transition from Johnson's presence to his absence relatively smooth.

Assist Rate2010-112009-10
Jamal Crawford18.316.1

Furthermore, the backcourt is the one area where the Hawks possess young talent that could (could, mind you) blossom if forced into action. Joe Johnson is much better than either Jeff Teague or Jordan Crawford but it's reasonable to hope that Teague and Crawford are both better than they've performed so far this season and that they could bridge some of the season-to-date gap between their production and Johnson's season-to-date level of diminished effectiveness.

2010-11Pts/36TS%Usg%Ast RateTO Rate
Jordan Crawford15.745.9251311.1

That Teague and Crawford the younger should be expected to turn the ball over much more often than Johnson raises the fair question of whether or not Larry Drew would demonstrate the patience with them that might be necessary to receive the reward of improved offensive production from either or both them.

The further upshot of giving Teague and Jordan Crawford increased minutes is that it's unlikely they'd be less effective defensively than Johnson. Whether it's due to the unrealistic matchups he's drawn, his limitations as a defender, or both* the Hawks have, for two-plus seasons, given up far more points with Johnson on the floor.


Both Marvin Williams (at least when he's playing small forward) and Maurice Evans (when he's playing in the backcourt rather than at small forward) have been better defenders than Johnson over the past two-plus seasons and increased minutes for them in Johnson' absence might improve the team's defense.

*My best guess.

The Hawks have won without Johnson before. Even in the heyday of iso-Joe and prior to the full blossoming of Al Horford we've witnessed this season, the Hawks went 2-0 (both on the road) without Johnson in 2008-09 and 2-3 (four of five games on the road) without him in 2009-10 not counting the dead rubbers he sat out at the end of each of the past two seasons.

The good news is that the Hawks should survive without Johnson. It could be argued they won't miss even him. The bad news is that, should the latter be true, and the Hawks perform as the same mid- to high-40s win team they appeared to be with Johnson over the first 22% of this season, the questions as to why 23.7% of this season's salary spending, 28.1% of this season's cap space, and another $107,333.589 is going to a player fairly peripheral to the team's success at this point in time will only increase.


Daniel said...

I'm honestly excited about Joe being out for an extended amount of time. I think it will really cement the motion offense, give Al more reps as the go-to offensive guy, get Marvin more aggressive, and give more playing time to Teague and Crawford. All of those things are desperately needed if the Hawks are going to advance in the future.

While Joe is out, maybe he can learn how to move the ball quickly, or attack on a pick-and-roll...

Scramble said...

Joe said the elbow has been bugging him since last season. So isn't there a chance this surgery lets him bounce back from his terrible shooting start this season / end of last season?