By the numbers
Joe Johnson: 79 G, 79 GS, 32.6 MPG, 15.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.1 BPG, .454 FG%, .401 3P%, .815 FT%, 15.5 PER
DeMar DeRozan: 79 G, 79 GS, 38.2 MPG, 22.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.4 BPG, .429 FG%, .305 3P%, .824 FT%, 18.4 PER
Let’s get this out of the way: this matchup features the only two 2014 All-Stars in this series.
Seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson’s shooting the three-ball better than he has in each of the past 10 seasons (40.1%) and even set an NBA record this season from beyond the arc.
The 24-year-old DeRozan doesn’t have Johnson’s accolades or savings account. The Compton native isn’t shooting the three-ball nearly as well, made an All-Star team for just the first time this season, and has set no NBA record I am aware of. But to his credit, DeRozan’s averaging a career high in points, assists, rebounds, and shot attempts in his fifth season.
It’s easy to judge Johnson based on his onerous contract. He’s paid an absurd amount of money for his production. But strip those dollar signs from your analysis and the breakdown gets closer: this becomes a battle between Johnson, a deadly spot-up shooter (42.7 percent from deep on spot-up opportunities this season, per Synergy) and creative isolation scorer (scoring on 41.4 percent of isolations and only turning the ball over 5.4 percent of the time, per Synergy), versus DeRozan, an improved defender, top scorer, and difference-maker in Toronto’s HORNS offense.
Thursday, John Schuhmann of NBA.com released some intriguing SportVU matchup data for every first-round playoff series. In the Nets-Raptors iteration, Schumann took a look at how DeRozan and Johnson have matched up this season when guarded by one another, with the results swaying heavily in DeRozan’s favor.
According to the data, DeRozan has guarded Joe Johnson for a total of nine minutes this season. In those nine minutes, Johnson is has made just four of his nine shot attempts (2-2 from three) for a total of 10 points.
In the reverse scenario, Johnson has guarded DeRozan for just under seven minutes this season. DeRozan has scored 22 points on 8-9 (!) shooting in those seven minutes.
Small sample size? Incredibly. But that kind of intense production in a short time sets off the alarm bells. Broadening the scope a bit, DeRozan’s had success against the Nets since Johnson joined the team, averaging 21.6 points per game on 48.6 percent shooting in seven games Johnson played in.
Though broadening the scope also lessens the impact — DeRozan and Johnson weren’t matched up on every play — it’s still a disturbing trend. Johnson’s perimeter defense has been below par this year: as such a big forward, it’s often difficult for him to disallow dribble penetration from smaller, more athletic wings, and DeRozan is just another example of this.
But who’s more important to their team?
According to NBA.com/stats, the Nets have outscored opponents by an average of 1.1 points per 100 possessions (heretofore referred to as “ppCp”) with Johnson on the court this season, and have been outscored by an average of 3.7 ppCp with Johnson off the court, a difference of +4.8 ppCp. Only three other Nets have a larger differential this season — Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, and Shaun Livingston.
The difference is even more pronounced since the Nets switched to their small/long lineup in 2014: they’re +5.6 ppCp with Johnson on the court and -3.9 ppCp with him off the court, a +9.5 difference. Only Deron Williams has had a bigger impact.
Since the Raptors traded Rudy Gay on December 9th, DeRozan’s had a positive impact on Toronto’s on-off court numbers. They’re +3.6 ppCp with him on the bench, and +5.0 ppCp with him on the court. A difference, but one far less pronounced difference than Johnson’s.
The limited matchup data paints one picture, the on-off court paints another. Johnson’s a bit more efficient as a scorer, but DeRozan shoulders a heavier offensive load. So let’s go with one biased measure to decide this one.
As you probably know — but I’ll present to you anyway — Joe Johnson has been the NBA’s most clutch player over the past two seasons.
In the last two seasons, Joe Johnson is 7-8 (87.5%) in games with 10 seconds or less remaining and the score within three points, the NBA’s best conversion rate in those situations.
DeRozan? He’s 3-11 (27.2%) in those same situations during the same span.
In a matchup of two players who feature such contrasting styles, Joe Johnson vs. DeMar DeRozan should be fun to watch. Will the slow-paced but more efficient Johnson out-duel the more athletic but less established DeRozan?
We say: Yes, but we respect DeRozan’s ability to put up points in bunches, even if Johnson comes across his points more effectively. We also can’t ignore that DeRozan put up a career-high four assists per game, ranking second only to Lowry on the Raptors.
Really wanted to give this to Joe Cool. For now, we’re calling it even. Prove me wrong, Joe.
Note: with additional reporting and analysis from Devin Kharpertian.