Joe Johnson Day: Banality Meets Talent (SEASON GRADE)

Joe Efficient
Joe Bad.
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By the numbers: 72 G, 72 GS, 36.7 MPG, 16.3 PPG, 3.5 APG, 3.0 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.2 BPG, .423 FG%, .375 3P%, .820 FT%, .521 TS%, .493 eFG%

Advanced: 14.1 PER, 109 ORtg, 111 DRtg, 21.7 USG%, 2.4 ORB%, 7.4 DRB%, 4.9 TRB%, 16.7 AST%, 1.0 STL%, 0.4 BLK%, 4.8 estimated wins added

At times, Joe Johnson appeared to be a shell of his former self. He didn’t shoot well. He played boring isolation basketball, and poorly. He didn’t defend well. He had the worst rebounding season of his career and struggled to pass out of the most basic pick-and-roll. Fighting plantar fasciitis in the playoffs, he turned in his worst performance of the season in Brooklyn’s Game 7 loss. His PER was the lowest it’s been since 2004-05 and below the league average of 15.

At other times, Joe Johnson was the single most indispensable Brooklyn Nets player. Specifically, with less than 30 seconds left and the game within one possession, when Johnson went 10-12 from the field in the regular season and playoffs combined. He hit two buzzer-beating game-winning jump shots. He hit a third with under a second left. He tied a playoff game with a floater in two seconds. And those were just moments in overtimes. Johnson was this team’s go-to scorer when they needed to go-to-someone, and even though he took odd shots at times, he delivered.

Johnson was a perfect encapsulation of every positive and criticism Brooklyn faced on the floor this season: He was an overpaid big name that scored in boring, inefficient ways, didn’t maximize his talent, and mixed flashes of ridiculous effectiveness with long stretches of basketball banality.

As expected, Johnson took on a smaller load of the offense in Brooklyn, but it didn’t translate to more efficient offense. After using 26% of his team’s possessions when on the floor in seven seasons in Atlanta, Johnson’s usage rate dipped to just 21.7% in Brooklyn — but his true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage were both just about his career average. With a lighter load of the offense, you’d expect Johnson’s efficiency to shoot up — but that just wasn’t the case.

WATCH: Joe Johnson’s Top 10 Plays of 2012-13

Part of that issue was that Iso-Joe, who was notorious for too many isolations in Atlanta, became even more of an isolationist in Brooklyn. According to Synergy Sports Technology, 23.3% of Johnson’s logged possessions in the 2011-12 season with Atlanta were “isolations.” Another 12.1% were post-ups, which are similarly a one-on-one play. That means that 35.4% of Johnson’s plays were in one-on-one situations, a very high number.

In Brooklyn, Johnson’s isolations were expected to go down, freed from the confines of Atlanta’s offense and part of a more fluid game that would let him play off Deron Williams. He would take more spot-up shots, come off screens more, and get quicker, smarter shots.

That didn’t happen. Johnson’s isolations went up significantly. 28% of his offense came in isolation situations in Brooklyn, and another 15.1% of his plays came in the post. That’s 43.1% of his plays coming in one-on-one situations. Or, to put it another way: nearly half of Johnson’s offense had nothing to do with his teammates in a game with five offensive players.

It wasn’t just isolations. It’s commonly known at this point that the midrange shot is generally a poor offensive tradeoff in the long-term: it’s the easiest shot to get on the floor, but it also rarely draws fouls and doesn’t end up scoring as many points as much as shots in the paint or from beyond the arc. For example: Johnson was horrible shooting in the restricted area this season. He shot just 47% on those shots — a full 13% below the league average.

And yet, his terrible, awful, no good, very bad 47% in the restricted area was better than his better-than-league-average 42.4% from midrange.

Joe Efficient
Joe Bad.

As a side note from the above shot chart: that 48.2% from inside the paint is a reflection of Johnson’s solid scoring ability in the paint away from rim-locking defense, most notably with Johnson’s floater in the lane. There’s no denying that his touch is there, it’s just a matter of selection and offensive creativity:

Joe Johnson’s shot distribution in Brooklyn.

With that as his primary method of scoring, it’s no surprise that he wasn’t a more effective option despite the lessened load.

Johnson, a quiet force that rarely ruffle feathers, expressed displeasure with the isolationist offense, saying it was simply “not going to work” in December.

Johnson was, for the most part, a very effective player in isolation, one of the 50 best in the NBA in points per possession. Johnson also got a huge amount of his offense spotting up from three-point range — 24% of his offense was of the “spot-up” variety, and almost 90% of his spot-up attempts were three-pointers. But his significant uptick in “break down your man” moments makes his season an indictment on the offensive system set in place by Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo, one that eschewed a significant amount of ball movement and didn’t create shots for open players in smart places. At times, it also seemed Johnson succumbed to the pressure of proving his worth in Brooklyn: as the team’s most expensive player, he should break anyone down at any given time. He should carry the team on his shoulders. At many points late in games, he did — but more often than not he carried the team in anti-team ways.

When Deron Williams asks for a more creative offensive coach, he may speak for himself, but he also subtly speaks for Johnson, who could be so better utilized. The talent and scoring ability were on display, and Johnson coasted his way to an effective, if subdued, season. Here’s to next year.

HIGH POINT: Pick any of his great&late shots, but in the interest of nostalgia, let’s say his first buzzer-beater, if only because it prompted the best call of Ian Eagle’s career. (It’s also in the top 10 video below.)

LOW POINT: Fighting plantar fasciitis, Johnson turned in a 2-14 shooting performance in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs as the Nets lost to the Chicago Bulls, 99-93.

MY FAVORITE MOMENT: Learning he has a fan club in China started by one man named Yonson that has nearly 500 members.

Final Grade

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Full List:
Deron Williams | Joe Johnson | Gerald Wallace | Reggie Evans | Brook Lopez | Andray Blatche | C.J. Watson | Keith Bogans | Kris Humphries | MarShon Brooks | Mirza Teletovic | Tyshawn Taylor | Tornike Shengelia