Welcome to day four of Joe Johnson week.
Thus far in Joe Johnson week, we’ve looked closely at ways Johnson will affect the Nets offense, but as my high school coach used to say, “basketball is a two-way sport.” As he's known more for his offense, it’s easy to overlook Johnson's defensive impact, but the reality is that Johnson is a better than average defender and will be an improvement over any shooting guard the Nets had last season.
It's no secret that last season the Nets lacked defense. A lot of that had to do with the lack of continuity in their lineup, but even more had to do with their lack of talented individual defenders.
Now, with the obvious caveat that defense is a product of all five players on the floor, and that overall team strategy and schemes vary, I'll going to look at Johnson's individual attributes as a defender in different situations and how those could look in a larger picture.
Joe Johnson in Post-Ups and Isolations
Of all the possible individual defensive scenarios that Joe Johnson could be in, it is in these two situations that he shines the most. Because of his success, Johnson only defended these actions 26.2% of the time last season, but held opponents to a FG% under 30% in each circumstance.
At 6'8" and 225 lbs, Johnson has a big, sturdy frame that allows him to overpower rival shooting guards and even deal with bulky power forwards when he’s switched onto them. He’s not particularly fast (although he’s not slow) and his lateral quickness is waning, so situations where Johnson can use his size and leverage are right in his defensive wheelhouse.
Johnson also does a great job of not biting. Jab steps and shot fakes do nothing to faze him, as he holds his position, feet glued to the hardwood, even when dealing with clever schemers like Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce.
As a result of his cadet-like discipline, Johnson forces opponents to exhaust their move, counter-move and sometimes the counter-counter move, leaving them only with weak fadeaways or low percentage pull-ups, which Johnson has the height and length to contest. This defensive stubbornness also led to Johnson having one of the lowest fouls per game average last season at a meager 1.3.
Here are a few examples of Johnson defending post-ups and isolations:
Joe Johnson Defending Around Screens
Joe Johnson's defensive prowess regresses some when he's forced into making agile, lateral maneuvers, such as navigating his way around screens. When defending against a screen, Johnson's size becomes a detriment. Simply stated, there is more mass for a screener to make contact with, thus making it harder for Johnson to avoid.
Johnson's numbers dip closer to average when guarding the ballhandler in a pick-and-roll situations: opponents shoot 41.5% from the field and a lot of that has to do with Johnson being unable to navigate a screen cleanly and getting clipped. However, his numbers improve slightly when he's dealing with screens away from the ball; he still has a tendency to get hung up on screens, but he still manages to get decent contests on the shooter. Here are some examples, and when you watch these clips, watch Johnson try to negotiate the various screens he encounters:
Joe Johnson Defending Close-Outs
As stated, Joe Johnson's straight-line speed was never elite, and as he gets older that speed and quickness will only continue to slip. This affects his ability most in close-out situations. While situations where Johnson can use his strength to bully his opponent are in his wheelhouse, when forced to cover distance quickly, Johnson’s physical advantages diminish.
Spot-ups were the most prevalent defensive situation Johnson was in last season, resulting in 30.6% of his defensive plays, and opponents shot 43.2% from the field with Johnson closing out on them. A long close-out is particularly daunting for any defender, but even more so for burly two-guards like Johnson. In these situations, he can be a little bit slow on getting out to the shooters and he at times can be indecisive, caught between stunting at the shooter and full on closing out. (Again, this may be a result of scheme, but we're taking it at face value).
Also, and more curiously, that rigid sense of discipline that Johnson shows in other situations? It goes out the window when running at a shooter. He’s more likely to lunge at jabs or even leave his feet on shot-fakes in this situation. Here are some examples:
In closing: Joe Johnson has clear strengths and weaknesses as a defender, but he'll add versatility and flexibility within the Nets defensive structure with his ability to defend big wings as well as hold his own versus low-post scorers. Johnson's mere presence alone in the Nets lineup will make them a better defensive team.
Statistical support for this story was provided by Synergy Sports Technology.