Monday, August 22, 2011
2010-11 Season Review: Joe Johnson
In the first season of Joe Johnson's huge contract, the Hawks didn't get the one representative Joe Johnson season that seemed likely at the time of signing. The danger is that 2010-11 season ushered out Joe Johnson's twenties and the Hawks could now be on the hook for $123 million purely for the decline phase of a player who has never been a good bet to age gracefully. The good news is that Johnson's wide-ranging decline (scoring rate, scoring efficiency, rebounding rates, steal rate, turnover rate) wouldn't look quite so bad had his three-point shooting not collapsed entirely. Because Johnson already drew little value from rebounding or making boxscore* defensive plays, declining rates in those facets aren't nearly as damaging to his contributions.
*Though Johnson increased his blocked shot total by 40% (from 5 to 7) in 2010-11 despite playing 300 fewer minutes than in 2009-10.
Because Johnson played hurt for essentially the entire season, there's little reason to believe he's all of a sudden a sub-30% three-point shooter. Especially because there was no concurrent decline in his field goal percentage on long two-point jumpers. Furthermore, his usage rate remained constant and by his (admittedly pedestrian) standards he had a good* playoffs, highlighted by his brilliant Game 1 performance in Chicago.
*and clearly his best playoff performance since 2007-08
Whether it was the Jason Collins effect or Larry Drew possessing a better perspective on reasonable defensive matchups for Johnson, the Hawks, unlike the previous two seasons, were not significantly worse defensively with Johnson on the floor. More backcourt minutes for Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich, as well as the opportunity to replace Jamal Crawford with a competent defender, could further ease Johnson's defensive responsibilities going forward though, at the team level, Johnson taking small forward minutes away from Marvin Williams figures to have a detrimental impact on defensive rebounding.
Even though there appears to be no way the new CBA could mitigate the size of the remaining five years of Johnson's contract for the Hawks, there are few players in the league (admittedly, most of them older than Johnson) who could benefit more from a shortened 2011-12 season. He's presumably poised to bounce back from beyond the arc, would have extra time to regain full health and might again be given a more reasonable brief by Larry Drew. Joe Johnson's days as the best Atlanta Hawk are most likely over and he's going to be over paid. However, neither of those realities define the quality of his play.