Thursday, February 02, 2012 Cunningham: Joe Johnson’s D has been strong, too

Michael Cunningham crunches the numbers on Joe Johnson's defense so far this season:
According to Synergy, Johnson has allowed just .71 points per possession, ranked No. 42 among all players. (Synergy had him allowing .93 points per possession in 2010-11 and .89 in 2009-10). This season Joe has been very good when defending in isolation (.56 ppp allowed, ranked 13th), against screen-roll ball-handlers (.69 ppp, ranked 33rd) and chasing his man off screens (.69 ppp, ranked seventh). Joe’s only defensive weakness this season, according to Synergy, has been defending spot-ups: .94 ppp, ranked 113th.

Opponent PER tells the same story. According to, Johnson’s foes at shooting guard have posted a paltry 8.6 PER and small forwards have managed just a 12.6 PER. (The opponent PER is ugly when Joe has been at point guard but that has only been a couple minutes, according to 82games.) Last season Joe’s opponent PER was 11.6 at shooting guard and 12.9 at small forward; in 2009-10, those numbers were 15.3 and 14.4, respectively.

Joe’s on-court, off-court numbers at also are positive. The Hawks have allowed 6.24 fewer points per 100 possessions with Joe on the court. And it doesn’t appear as if his strong numbers here depend on having Al and Josh Smith behind him: Joe has been part of strong defensive units that featured Zaza Pachulia or Jason Collins at center and even one lineup with Vladimir Radmanovic at power forward.

A healthy elbow has returned normal Joe Johnson service to the offensive end. Reasonable defensive assignments for Johnson, after years of being asked to chase around far quicker players, have also helped the Hawks survive the absence of Al Horford, thus far. Obviously, Johnson deserves his share of credit for his generally effective defensive play but this provides us another moment to be thankful for Jeff Teague receiving regular playing time.

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