Previewing Nets-Bulls: Shooting Guards

Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson, after hitting a game-winning shot as time expired vs. the Detroit Pistons. (AP)

The Brooklyn Nets will face the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs, starting Saturday night at 8 P.M. Today and tomorrow, we’ll take a look at how the teams match up.

Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson, after hitting a game-winning shot as time expired vs. the Detroit Pistons. (AP)

SG: Jimmy Butler vs. Joe Johnson

Tale of the tape:
Joe Johnson: 72 G, 72 GS, 16.3 PPG, 3.5 APG, 3.0 RPG, 0.7 SPG, .423 FG%, .375 3P%, .820 FT%, 14.1 PER
Jimmy Butler: 82 G, 20 GS, 8.6 PPG, 1.4 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG, .467 FG%, .381 3P%, .803 FT%, 15.2 PER

Jimmy Butler and Joe Johnson are on opposite ends of their career: Butler’s career is just taking off, while Johnson is cruising through — and past — his prime. Butler is an athletic, solid outside shooter and smart defender that struggles in one-on-one situations with the ball in his hands. But since becoming a full-time starter with the Bulls on March 24th, Butler has shined: 14.5 points and 6.4 rebounds in 42.4(!) minutes per game, shooting a scorching 52.8% from deep.

Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson shooting over Jimmy Butler. (AP)
Johnson, meanwhile, has struggled through an up-and-down season. his field goal percentage of .423 is the lowest mark he’s recorded since he became a full-time starter in 2003-04. The raw field goal percentage understates his effectiveness shooting from outside — hitting 37.5% of his 5.4 treys per game adds up to an effective field goal percentage of .493, around his career average — but Johnson also struggled to get to the free throw line, averaging a paltry 2.2 free throw attempts per 36 minutes. That’s equivalent to about one trip to the line per game. His 15.9 points per 36 minutes were also lower than any he’d put up since he joined the Atlanta Hawks in 2005-06, well down from 19.1 per 36 just a season earlier.

Before the season, I lauded Johnson’s control with the ball, and that was evident this season. Even though isolation situations — which account for a huge amount of Johnson’s possessions this season — suffer from simplicity, Johnson’s been most effective this year when he gets the ball in his hands and keeps it there, either shooting immediately or creating a look for himself. His few turnovers often come when he tries to create out of a pick-and-roll situations, or pass when he can’t get an open look for himself.

I’m giving a slight edge to Johnson here, if only because his track record of seven years speaks louder than Butler’s of 20 games, and unlike Butler, he’s got more than four minutes of playoff experience. Anything can happen in a seven-game series, but I’d bet on Johnson having a better series, especially considering Johnson’s unwavering play in important moments this year. But make no mistake: Butler’s 20 games as a starter were wildly impressive, and should his level of production continue at that level, that could swing the series.


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Deron Williams vs. Kirk Hinrich | Joe Johnson vs. Jimmy Butler | Gerald Wallace vs. Luol Deng | Reggie Evans vs. Carlos Boozer | Brook Lopez vs. Joakim Noah | P.J. Carlesimo vs. Tom Thibodeau | Bench Mob vs. Bulls Bench