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Why Is Joe Johnson So Dangerous?

 

Of all the NBA’s players who’re difficult to analyze yet don’t deserve to be analyzed in the first place, Joe Johnson might be the most notorious example in league history. When you mix in six straight All-Star games, one of the worst cap-crippling contracts of all time, the disappointing inability to drag his team beyond the second round of the playoffs, and a versatile offensive skill set that’s still powerful enough to take over games on a whim, what you get is an uber-confusing, unpredictable individual. If you were to ask three people to rate Joe Johnson on a scale of overrated, underrated, or properly rated, you could easily get three separate answers.

There’s one thing, however, that we can’t dispute once Atlanta and Boston begin their showdown Sunday night: Joe Johnson is a major threat. In this tightly wound season of statistical dark clouds, Johnson posted his highest true shooting percentage in five years, and the second highest of his 11-year career. But despite Atlanta’s previous ownership group stubbornly tagging him as the one player who could eventually lead them to a championship, his minutes have gradually gone down over the past four years, along with his points per game and usage percentage. When we look at how Atlanta’s offense fared this season, the Hawks scored 5.5 more points per 100 possessions with Johnson on the floor, third highest on the team behind Jeff Teague and Josh Smith (Teague and Smith also played more minutes than Johnson this season.) So is Johnson really Atlanta’s best player, or just a single-coverage afterthought?

This brings us to the article’s main focus: What can the Celtics expect from Johnson? And how will they go about stopping him? Well reputed throughout his career as a shooting guard, the Hawks have started Joe Johnson at small forward in 25 games this season (he’s spent 21% of his total playing time at the position, according to 82games.com), shifting Kirk Hinrich to the two guard and placing Marvin Williams on the bench. When he’s playing small forward, Johnson is quick enough to either blow by his man or curl off screens and take free spot up jumpers as he eludes slower defenders.

But as a shooting guard is where he really shines. Matched up against smaller defenders (Johnson stands at a surprisingly long 6’8″—four inches taller than Dwyane Wade) Johnson does as he pleases in the post, where he’s extremely comfortable. For all the criticism we give traditional perimeter players like LeBron James for failing to develop an offensive attack with their back to the basket, Joe Johnson can not be included in the discussion. His work in the post is beyond legit.

This season he shot 53.6% and was the 11th most efficient scorer in post-up situations, according to Synergy. It’s an area the Celtics would be well practiced to avoid, and when the Hawks bring Marvin Williams off the bench or Paul Pierce is battling possible foul trouble, the Celtics will be forced to counter by bringing in Mickael Pietrus or Ray Allen (if healthy) with duties to guard Johnson. This is where Pietrus is most handy, but it could take Avery Bradley off the court. It’s an interesting chess match, and while I don’t think the Celtics have to worry about it TOO much, given the way they guard individuals with all five of their guys, they still need to pay attention to Johnson, a player who can still take over a game with a 35-40 point effort.

Here’s a clip of Johnson showing what he can do in the post. The first move is against the much shorter Delonte West. Johnson backs him down and scores easily as a double team comes too late. The second is against the 6’7″ Landry Fields, and instead of bullying him all the way down to the basket, he calmly steps back and drains a fade away jumper.

Here’s Pietrus fronting Johnson in the post, simultaneously disallowing him to get comfortable and making it difficult for Marvin Williams to lob something over the top. Sensing that’s what the Hawks are trying to do, Brandon Bass lingers on the baseline ready to slide over and shut down any space of operation should Johnson even catch the risky entry pass. Williams gives the ball to a cutting Zaza Pachulia at the foul line which opens up the floor for Atlanta’s offensive options. Primarily what it does is force Bass closer to his man, Josh Smith, who’s “posing as a threat” 15 feet from the basket on the baseline. Bass shifts out of the paint and Zaza slides a bounce pass to the well-positioned Johnson for the easy lay up.

And here’s Johnson working Bradley in the post. he gets off a pretty good shot that will go down more times than not if the Celtics don’t bring a man to double in that situation.

More than two Celtics will spend significant time guarding Johnson throughout the series, but the man who will start and end the game on him will probably be Pierce. Judging from the on/off court numbers provided by NBA.com, whether or not Pierce is guarding him doesn’t seem to change Joe Johnson’s mentality as to how he’d like to attack the basket. However, it does make him less effective. When the two shared the court this season (a majority of which saw Pierce guarding him) Johnson shot 44.8% from the field. With Pierce on the bench, leaving the task up to a pu pu platter of Celtics defenders such as Pietrus, Bradley, Sasha Pavlovic, and Allen, Johnson shot 52.2% from the floor. Unfortunately, Pierce can’t defend Johnson for the entire game, due to the foul issue and the fact that he’s a human being, and human beings tend to get tired.

Despite him being the scariest player Atlanta has, Joe Johnson isn’t good enough to receive a “you can only hope to contain him” level of respect. With the personnel Boston has, they should realistically aim to eliminate as much of Johnson from Atlanta’s offensive game plan as possible. If that happens, the rest should take care of itself.

Twitter: @ShakyAnkles

  • tbunny

    I don't trust Joe Johnson.

  • ed judson

    Trading Joe Johnson was the worst personnel move in the hisory of the Celtics.

  • skeeds

    Joe Johnson falls into that category of players who are one click larger than normal for their sport. Which is far from unusual. Lebron, Carmelo, Rose, Pierce, these guys are all one size too big for their spot.

    Johnson is an SG+. The fact that he knows this and has made sure he can play accordingly, as the article analyses, is what makes him an elite scorer.
    Of all the potential matchups this year though, he might be the one I'm worried less for. Pietrus and Sasha are big, strong 2's too, and way above average defenders. Between them and Bradley, I'd say SG is the only position I'm completely comfortable we'll cover well throughout the playoffs.

    • W2.

      Joe is tall and good and remains unflappable. Dude is good.

      • skeeds

        Oh hell yeah Joe is good. Still, we've got 4 great defenders who could potentially guard him. That's about as good as it gets.

  • hansgruber

    Derek Rose tore his ACL today. It really sucks for him and the Bulls but as a Celtics fan this has to get you excited some what.

    • ElRoz

      I wonder who will win in fewer games? I still thin the Bulls w/o Rose could handle Phily better than either team in the Boston-Atlanta series could handle its opponent.

      Bulls are still tough w/o Rose….I expect them to beat Phily and give serious problems to whoever emerges from Boston-Atlanta.

      As for getting excited over a possible opportunity for Boston to go deeper in the playoffs: with the C's clearly losing players to injuries all season, I just hope they can retain this same team through the first round – if Schumpert and Rose are getting hurt, I expect anybody to get hurt, especially Boston (why should the playoffs be different from the last 4 years of playoffs and regular season?) If Boston is healthy, I'll be happy – I'm just tired of having the injury excuse every year – though its real and always plagues this team.

    • skeeds

      Well that makes things just a bit easier. Without Rose, the Bulls have fared pretty well, by suffocating their opponents through defense and finding just enough firepower to win.
      The C's only win by following the same tactic, although unfortunately not as effectively. In a potential series against the Bulls, baskets will be hard to find . With Pierce, KG and hopefully Ray though, our offense might be a bit more able to find some solutions. Still, for that to happen, I'm gonna go ahead and guess Rondo must have at least 2 triple doubles, and average more than 15 points. He's the only one head and shoulders above his matchup, and he has to be the difference maker.

      Lets not get ahead of ourselves though. We've got another series in the way. Then, we'll see…

  • ElRoz

    I think it is safe to finally write Ray Allen off…he ain't playing in these playoffs; and if he is, he is not likely to contribute much and will then miss the rest of the playoffs; so we might expect a Shaq-like appearance for single game and then the announcement.

    A season that started off with losing Jeff Green and continued with losing JO and Wilcox, now ends with Ray Allen mini retirement. Boston could still play w/o Ray because Pietrus, Bradley, and Dooling offer better defense than Ray (though he is NOT bad)…but offensively Boston will miss his shooting (I just hope that Pietrus doesn't take it upon himself to put up Ray's 3-point attempts); all in all, these three guys are not bad as 3-point shooters.

    LET'S GO Dooling, Pietrus, and Bradley – crank up that D!

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