Now that the draft has passed, it is time to focus on attention to the event that NBA fans have been anticipating for literally years. On Saving the Skyhook, I’ll do a review a day of each of the major players who figure to command the most attention come July 1 — in no particular order. Today features Joe Johnson of the Atlanta Hawks.
As Joe Johnson hits the free agency market this summer, he brings alone with him some very unfortunate circumstances. The Atlanta Hawks looked absolutely awful during their second-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic, as everyone on the roster played subpar basketball. Particularly noticeable was Johnson’s performance, as he looked completely ineffective.
Regardless, any team that signs him knows what it’s going to get: an oversized shooting guard who can flat-out score the basketball. Since coming to the Hawks, Johnson has scored over 20 points per game every year, thanks to a wide arsenal of scoring tools. Standing at 6-foot-7, Johnson has an appreciable size advantage on most other players at his position. As a result, he’s devastating in the post-up game, creating great position on shorter guards and shooting over them with ease.
In addition, he’s fairly crafty at getting to the rim, with a knack for scoring on the drive with a plenitude of layups and other moves around the basket. He tops it all off with a nice touch and incredible range on his jump shot, allowing him to score a lot of points from beyond the arc.
The problem with Johnson’s scoring is that he really only seems comfortable playing one-on-one. The majority of his scoring plays result from isolation sets, and he doesn’t rely on his capable teammates to get him good looks in transition or in pick-and-roll sets. Accordingly, he would not fit well with an up-tempo team (which seems odd, considering how well he played with Phoenix).
While Johnson’s main asset is his scoring, he’s also a capable passer. He averaged just under five assists per game last season, and hit 5.8 the two previous seasons, thanks to his playing alongside the pass-deficient point guard Mike Bibby. If he signs with a team with a better point guard and a less capable starting lineup, expect his assist numbers to decline and his already-high 25.2 assist ratio to inflate further.
Nevertheless, problems abound with Johnson. In addition to his dependence on one-on-one basketball, he’s not much of a defender. While he routinely racks up a steal per game, his virtually nonexistent block numbers are puzzling given how tall he is. He also is not very quick, so more agile guards have little trouble scooting around him and getting to the rim.
Moreover, as Johnson wants to be his next team’s star, suitors have to carefully consider whether he can actually fill that role. His quiet, reserved demeanor doesn’t lend itself to a team leader, and the way he bowed out of the playoffs this season doesn’t speak well to his ability to handle pressure situations. He might be able to score, but he doesn’t provide the complete repertoire of tools that franchise players like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade do.
All these things considered, he most likely won’t get a maximum deal; there are two many question marks about him. But some team will pay him money in the $13 million to $15 million range, and his scoring prowess is something that any NBA team can benefit from. He’s just better off as a sidekick than he is as a first-option. Pairing him with one of the many quality bigs on the market this summer would work swimmingly.