Joe Johnson and the power of choice

Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson (AP)

Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson (AP)

Number: 7

Position: SG/SF

Height: 6’7”

Weight: 240

Years Pro: 12

Hometown: Little Rock, AK

Prior to NBA: University of Arkansas

Twitter: @TheJoeJohnson7

Johnson is an outstanding offensive talent, one of the league’s best, and will either be this team’s binding glue or ultimate downfall. There is no in-between for someone as good as Johnson at so many things.

He earned the nickname “Iso-Joe” ignominiously in Atlanta for his penchant for one-on-one play, and indeed, Johnson is a talented isolation player. Holding aside that the evidence that the isolation is a generally poor look, Brooklyn’s highest-paid player is more adept at getting a clean look one-on-one than most NBA players.

His combination of size, elite ballhandling, and instinctual spatial understanding make him one of the league’s premier isolation scorers. In 383 isolation plays in 2012-13, he shot 44% from the field and averaged 0.89 points per possession. It’s the reason that with four chances to win a game, he nailed all four, and was able to walk me through exactly how.

But no matter who you are, the numbers don’t bear out an isolation as the crux of your offense. The short of it is this: open shots matter, and year in and year out, an isolation ranks as one of the worst ways of getting an open shot. Johnson may be better at it than most, but he’s still more efficient as a floor spacer than shot creator.

Below are two charts to help illustrate this point. The first charts Johnson’s offensive efficiency in Johnson’s five most common playsets last year: Coming off screens, spotting up, in transition, in isolation, and in post-up mode.

There’s a pretty clear trend: the plays that require movement from multiple players (screening, speeding, spotting up around a teammate) rank as far more efficient than the plays that require just one man (posting up, isolating).

Now let’s look at how often Johnson utilized each of those plays:

How far this Nets team can go will rely on numerous factors, but perhaps no more than Johnson’s choices. He sees an opportunity for even more one-on-one plays than last season, because of the space the team’s numerous offensive options will allow him to operate in. And sure, I’m not suggesting that Johnson completely abandon the isolation. His ability to create for himself off the dribble can also create what Jason Kidd calls a “problem” for defenses, and those problems create team points. Let’s look again at what Kidd said about Joe Johnson in crunch time:

Well, if you’re into analytics, you would look at Joe Johnson as the clear-cut, of the guy taking the last-second shot. He was 9 for 10 with 24 seconds or less, so that would be your guy that could, who’s the closer. But the game of basketball is something that, you put five guys out there and you draw up a play for your- for one player, most of the time it doesn’t end up being that one guy taking that shot. He creates a problem, which results in one of his teammates getting a wide open look, and make or miss, it’s the right basketball play. So for us, it’s about making the right basketball play at the end. But if you’re looking at stats, which a lot of you guys do, Joe Johnson is the name that comes first.

If Johnson can get an open look out of a one-on-one because he’s got a defender completely befuddled with no help coming, then I hope he takes it. Open shots and layups are the best. But if his work brings Brook Lopez’s defender over in the paint, or causes Deron Williams’s defender to unconsciously hesitate, I hope his instincts to get his points turn off, and his instincts to get the Nets points take over.

That choice could be the difference between 49-33 and playing in June.

Previous: Alan Anderson Next: Jason Terry

Full List:

| Shaun Livingston | Deron Williams | Tyshawn Taylor | Alan Anderson | Joe Johnson | Jason Terry | Andrei Kirilenko | Paul Pierce | Tornike Shengelia | Reggie Evans | Kevin Garnett | Mirza Teletovic | Andray Blatche | Brook Lopez | Mason Plumlee |