by Allen Powell II
This is a familiar place. That is because for all of his flaws as a player, Joe Johnson has been a model of consistency. Johnson’s consistency is reflected in his statistics, his team’s success and his rankings on SLAMonline’s Top 50 during the past four years.
Since Johnson left the Phoenix Suns after the ’04-05 season, fans and critics have had little trouble predicting what he’s going to provide his team: 18-22 points, 4-5 assists, 4-5 rebounds, and a second-round Playoff exit at best. At this point in his career, people feel like they know what Joe Johnson can do.
So maybe it’s time to talk a little more about what Johnson can’t do. First of all, he can’t justify the $120 million contract the Atlanta Hawks gave him. To Johnson’s credit, and possibly detriment, he’s never seemed too concerned about that inability. He’s played his game the same way despite being the second-highest paid shooting guard in the League. Johnson has shown either a remarkable level of self-assurance or shocking obliviousness.
That segues nicely into the next thing Joe Johnson can’t do; he can’t keep doing the same things he’s been doing. Anyone who has watched Johnson extensively should be able to understand exactly why he’s overpaid.
Johnson has shown himself to be a mildly efficient jump shooter, with passable athletic ability and a penchant for uneven Playoff performances. Most folks see those qualities and can’t understand how the Hawks could be convinced to hand him a max contract. But, look a little closer, and it becomes clear that those qualities are exactly why Johnson got his big deal.
Yes, he settles for jumpers. But, watch Johnson those times when he’s determined to get his 6-8, 225-pound frame close to the rim and it’s easy to imagine what could happen if that was his focus every game. Consider his confidence on the low block and his above-average defense, and it’s simple to picture Johnson seamlessly helping any team.
Notice his impressive handle, his good court vision and his unselfish demeanor, and Johnson’s game becomes downright tantalizing. There was a reason the Suns and Hawks both thought Johnson could play point guard, and while that belief was mistaken, he still possesses skills most 2-guards lack.
Honestly, the Hawks paid Joe Johnson because they were enticed by the potential they saw beneath his steady production. Conversely, fans loathe Joe Johnson because that same mind-numbing production blinds them to his potential.
As Johnson enters the downside of his career, he has to do something very few players can do, and that’s change. He has to recognize how to score with a dominant point guard, and a serious low-post threat. He has to take full advantage of his amazing skills, and break the habits that made him a $120 million man. That means setting up teammates, and taking efficient shots. It means being assertive without dominating the ball.
Joe Johnson has occupied the same place on this list and in the minds of NBA fans for years because most people believe they know what Joe Johnson can do. Now it’s time for him to prove all of those people wrong.
|SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012|
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.