Free Agency Profiles: Joe Johnson

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.

April 26, 2010 Milwaukee, WI. Bradley Center..Atlanta Hawks Joe Johnson pulls up for the jumper, Johnson had 29 points and 9 assists against the Bucks tonight..Milwaukee Bucks won over the Atlanta Hawks 111-104, in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs. The Series is now tied at 2-2. Mike McGinnis/CSM.

Source: Yardbarker.com

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.


Hawks need Joe Johnson to show up

Joe Johnson needs to contribute more for the Hawks to win.

The Orlando Magic still haven’t lost a game in the 2010 playoffs.

On the heels of a 43-point victory over Atlanta in Game 1, Orlando took a 2-0 series lead by beating the Hawks 112-98 Thursday night. After Atlanta went a solid 53-29 during the regular season, it has struggled to come away with victories in the postseason; the team barely squeezed by a depleted Bucks team in the first round, and it is now in a deep hole against Orlando.

John Hollinger wrote for ESPN today that Atlanta’s isolation-based offense isn’t a very good fit for playoff contests. While there’s an argument to be made there, the Hawks’ best isolation player hasn’t shown up in the series against the Magic so far. That’s the main reason for the embarrassing loss Tuesday night.

In the two games, Johnson has 29 points combined on dreadful 33 percent (9-27) shooting. He also has five turnovers in the two contests, and he has shot 2-8 from beyond the three-point line.

While he is surrounded by a fairly solid supporting cast, he needs to be a leader for a team that lacks another one-on-one scorer. His primary defender on the Magic? That’s Vince Carter, who’s not exactly Bruce Bowen on the defensive side of the ball.

In Game 3, Joe Johnson will have to establish himself on Atlanta’s home floor, where the Hawks play significantly better. He needs to make a serious effort on offense to put up 25 or more points. If he can do that, Josh Smith and Al Horford, who have played reasonably well up front, can complement that solid base of offense.

Moreover, if Johnson can shoot a better percentage, he can demand more attention from Orlando’s defense, opening up jump shots for Mike Bibby, Marvin Williams, and Mo Evans. In addition, a solid outing for Johnson sets the pace for Jamal Crawford to come off the bench and light up the scoreboard.

This offseason, Johnson will be part of the highly lauded free-agent class of 2010. Among names like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, he is in good company in the open market. That said, there has been much debate about whether Johnson deserves a maximum contract.

Given his poor postseason play, I’d be inclined to say he doesn’t. One of the most important aspect of a franchise player is his ability to lead his team to victory in the playoffs. LeBron does it, Wade does it, and Kobe Bryant does it. Johnson, however, does not. He still has a chance to redeem himself, though.

With a maximum of five games left in the series, he has an opportunity to show what he can do. Atlanta will be depending on it.

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