Birthday: June 29, 1981
Hometown: Little Rock, AK
Years Pro: 11
“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.”
— Joe Johnson 4real (@TheJoeJohnson7) September 9, 2012
Atlanta-inspired Nickname: Iso-Joe
Nickname I'd Give Him: Prospect Joe (credit Graydon Gordian)
How He Got Here: As the Nets' pursuit of Dwight Howard kept hitting dead ends, Billy King switched tactics and called new Danny Ferry -- Atlanta Hawks GM and good friend from Duke -- and inquired about Joe Johnson. The teams agreed to a deal on July 2nd, 2012, the Hawks sending Johnson to the Nets for Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, Jordan Williams, Johan Petro, DeShawn Stevenson, and two first-round draft picks. Per NBA rules, the deal was made official on July 11th.
Contract: Johnson infamously signed the largest contract of any player in the 2010 offseason, re-signing with the Atlanta Hawks on a six-year, $124 million deal that earns him more money than LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, who signed smaller deals with the Miami Heat in the same offseason. He currently has four years and approximately $90 million left on the contract.
Johnson grew up in gang-infested Little Rock, and his young adulthood left him no stranger to struggle. Never tempted into the lifestyle, Johnson now hosts a Hoop Jams 3-on-3 Tournament each summer, giving back to his rebuilding community. Johnson dreamt of playing college basketball for the Arkansas Razorbacks, which he eventually did for two seasons before declaring for the Draft in 2001. Johnson was drafted by the Celtics and traded to the Suns in his second year, where he flourished in a run-and-gun offense with Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, and superstar point guard Steve Nash.
Johnson left Phoenix after four successful seasons to join the Atlanta Hawks, where he became a poster boy for overpaid talent: despite his lucrative contracts, the Hawks never made it out of the second round with Johnson as their leader. Your opinion of Johnson is generally clouded by his dollars: either he's an overpaid cap killer, or a very good player where the money doesn't matter.
Now, after a trade to the Brooklyn Nets, the country boy from Arkansas has a chance to play with the best point guard he's seen since Nash, on one of the brightest and most highly scrutinized stages in the NBA. He came to Brooklyn "terrified" of the city, but not long after became a "chameleon," blending into Brooklyn and his new surroundings. He's said all along he's here to win, if he does, he may not blend in for long.
Johnson's not flashy, but he gets the job done. Offensively, he can do nearly everything: according to Synergy Sports Technology, Johnson ranks in the top 15% of the NBA scoring in isolation, on spot-up shots, posting up, and cutting to the basket. He can score off the dribble and get open off the ball. He can hit midrange jumpers, drive to the basket, and hit deep threes. He's a smart passer and solid defender, and his size (he's listed at 6'7" and 240 lbs) allows him to dominate smaller guards. His overall numbers remain largely unchanged over the last six years, and he doesn't have a game that's predicated on his athleticism, meaning he should age gracefully.
Johnson’s biggest weakness may be that none of his strengths are exceptionally strong. He’s a great offensive player, but not an elite one. He’s a good defensive player, but not a lockdown defender. He’s an average rebounder and an average NBA-level athlete. Watch his NBA highlights sometime: there's a lot of crafty layups and smooth jumpers, but nothing screaming raw athleticism. He does an awful lot of good on the basketball court, but he can't be your best player if you're fielding an elite team.
Three revealing numbers
1) Balance. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Johnson rated in the top 11% of the NBA offensively and the top 30% defensively. As a post-up guard, Johnson was dominant -- he ranked in the top 5% of the NBA posting up and in the top 3% defending it.
2) Balance. Look at Johnson’s numbers from each of the past seven years and you’ll find a player, largely unchanged, that produced year in and year out. 19-ish points, 5-ish assists, and 4-ish rebounds per 36 minutes. A PER swirling around 18. 109 points produced per 100 possessions, using about 26% of his team’s possessions. A true shooting percentage around 54%, and an effective field goal percentage of 50%.
3) 93-43. In the past three seasons, Joe Johnson has scored more than 20 points 93 times. Nets shooting guards have only scored over 20 points 43 times in that same span.
Hard to choose between any of his final playoff games -- Johnson has never been out of the second round of the playoffs.
From the Coach
“Joe is a tremendous talent. I had a lot of nights where Joe made me go home and put me in a bad mood. Now I’ll be in a happier mood knowing that he’s on our team.”
Fun fact: Johnson was playing NBA 2K12 when he heard about the trade, and immediately traded himself to the Nets in the game.