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Saturday, September 28th, 2013 at 3:00 pm  |  34 responses

Top 50: Joe Johnson, no. 40

Brooklyn’s 2-guard is still one of the most feared scorers in the game.

by Bill DiFilippo / @bflip33

It’s Game 4 of the 2013 conference quarterfinals. Brooklyn at Chicago. The Bulls lead the series, 2-1, and are up 119-117 with 23 seconds left in overtime. Brooklyn loses, their backs are against the wall, down 3-1. Brooklyn wins? The series is tied 2-2 going back to Brooklyn. If this game isn’t a must win, it’s about as close as you’ll get.

Deron Williams has had a nice game so far, as had Brook Lopez. But Joe Johnson? He’s struggled. Being hounded by Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler for most of the game, Johnson only has 13 points on 5-11 shooting. Not a horrible game, but not a game that one of the 50 best players in the NBA is supposed to have.

On this play, the ball goes to Johnson. He’s given the ball on the wing, isolated against Deng, and needs to score or else this game’s over. Johnson puts the ball on the ground, dribbles for eight seconds seconds, and makes his move. Johnson puts his shoulder down, drives to the rim, and puts up a shot while quadruple-teamed. Deng, Nate Robinson, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah are all in the vicinity, trying to alter Johnson’s shot. The veteran Johnson releases his at the apex of his jump, and gets it up over all four Bulls defenders.

Swish.

119-119.

Chicago gets the ball back, and Robinson throws up a circus shot that magically goes in, one of those shots that only Robinson can make when he’s completely in the zone (he ended the game with 34 points off the bench). Chicago leads, 121-119. Brooklyn gets the ball back with two seconds left, right in front of Chicago’s bench.

This time, it’s Butler’s job to guard Johnson, who is camped out in the corner on the opposite side of the court. Lopez sets a screen on Butler, which frees up Johnson, who sprints to the top of the key to receive the inbounds pass from Gerald Wallace. Johnson is wide open, but Butler can’t catch up, and Johnson has a clear path to the hoop.

Johnson takes one dribble, gathers, and prepares to go up again from nearly the same spot. Noah comes from the corner where he was guarding Lopez to contest the shot, and as Johnson unleashes his floater, Noah goes up to block the shot. Noah just misses blocking the floater, which goes right over his outstretched fingers. Johnson lands and looks up at his shot.

Swish.

121-121.

Double OT.

This game is an example of why Johnson is one of our 50 best players in the NBA: He may have lost a step, and he may not be the kind of guy you can build a team around, but when your team needs two points, Johnson is an assassin. His lack of emotion is a subject of criticism from fans and pundits, but among guys in the League who are able to take everything in stride and not let the pressure of the moment get to them, there aren’t many of Johnson’s caliber.

Of course, expecting Johnson to the offensive savant that he was in Atlanta is a bit unfair. He just isn’t the kind of guy that can give you 25 points and be the No. 1 option on your team anymore. This isn’t his fault, he’s just getting older. While he may have deserved his massive contract when he signed it in the summer of 2010, it’s hard to justify giving a guy who is usually a team’s second or third option the remaining three years and $70 million on the deal, especially a guy who isn’t able to compensate with excellent passing, rebounding, or defense.

This year, there will be games where Johnson is the No. 1 option for Brooklyn, but there are also games where he will be the team’s No. 4 or No. 5 option. Bringing in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will help the team, but more often than not, they will probably cause Johnson’s numbers to suffer. And yes, it’s hard to justify naming a team’s fourth or fifth best player one of the 50 best players in the NBA unless we’re talking about an Olympic team.

But in Johnson’s case, he’s earned his spot, and until someone takes it from him, he’s keeping it. He’s still one of the most feared scorers in the game when he’s on. He’s still too big for most 2-guards, and when he gets into his zone, the list of small forwards who can stop him is very, very short.

Moments of genius like his performance in Game 4 against Chicago are what make Johnson special. His offensive game is as well rounded as anyone else’s in the League: He can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, pull up from three, beat you mid-range, anything. He isn’t as efficient as before—last season, Johnson posted his lowest field-goal percentage since ‘02-03—but like the Chicago game or when he outscored Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in OKC last year show what he can still do.

Johnson isn’t an All-Star any more, and he isn’t the kind of guy you can build a team around. But with his offensive game, he’s still one of the best 50 players in the NBA.


Where should Joe Johnson rank in the SLAM Top 50?

Loading ... Loading ...
SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Monta Ellis Mavs SG 5
49 Luol Deng Bulls SF 10
48 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 14
47 Greg Monroe Pistons PF 12
46 Kawhi Leonard Spurs SF 9
45 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 13
44 Al Jefferson Bobcats C 9
43 David Lee Warriors PF 11
42 Jrue Holiday Pelicans PG 12
41 Anthony Davis Pelicans PF 10
40 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.

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  • Hum

    FIRST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Hum

    FIRST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • bashmo

    Wow Cool Joe has taken a hit in the rankings. Understandably so too, with his inconsistent play through last season…here’s hoping this new look brooklyn team can get him some more open looks to be a spot up shooter so he can get his rhythm going early.

  • elj4zz

    Sweet jumping jehosephat the 2 position is mighty thin. I would argue he should be lower though. I don’t see him as a top 40. 45 maximum.

  • spit hot fiyah

    i always liked joe johnson, he just caught a lot of heat for signing two massive contracts.
    ever since brandon roy went down johnson has been the 4th best 2 guard by default. underrated defender and ball handler (leon powe knows)

    watermelon sized balls in crunch time

  • danpowers

    skill / talent wise yes, maybe even better than 40. but production wise? i dont know. doesnt seem like an appropriate rank to me.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Let me (even though I disagree) justify this ranking,
    .
    Joe Johnson is the 3rd option in Brooklyn’s offense. And that’s just assuming you don’t consider Deron Williams the first or second option because he is now doing what he wants to do. Johnson will draw teams worst perimeter defender for the most part. And if you think of him just taking advantage of his spots, like he did in Phoenix that last season, he could end up to be very productive and efficient (comparative to the 40th “best” player in the league.). This could end up very justifiable.

  • spit hot fiyah

    “And that’s just assuming you don’t consider Deron Williams the first or
    second option because he is now doing what he wants to do.”

    which could potentially make him options 1-5

  • swag

    I think Monta Ellis produces more offensively in a more monta-ellis oriented offense.

    Joe produces more in a Atlanta-Hawks oriented offense.

    If they played 1 on 1 who would win?

    speed vs. size

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Monta Ellis oriented offenses suck in the long run though…..and they barely exist. Well as of right now, they don’t exist. The teams that used to play that Donny Nelson ball have adopted analytics. Monta is the type of guy those teams avoid now….ironically.

  • danpowers

    johnson will be the third option to be able to score more efficient when he scores / produces on offense in general. pierce and garnett will just – even though behind johnson in the food chain – demand more touches than wallace and humphries/blatche.

    as i said – talent wise i see him much higher, just production wise, not really buying it. your point sounds pretty logic to me so yeah, seems about ok.

    i feel a little left hanging in that “anthony shocked” thread tho lol

  • MUBWAR

    joe is basically paid 25 mil to tie or win the game if it gets to there. he had a horrendous fg% last season and it ain’t getting better. he will be a 4th option at best behind deron pp & brook. talent wise, SG is the 2nd worst position in the league behind C and he’s not in my top 5. so he doesn’t belong in the top 50, let alone number 40

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Oh well if a terrible explanation is what it takes….I believe you.

  • Kadavour

    wasn’t he 9/10 from 3 in crunch time last season? someone confirm that stat please. Ice water in his veins in the clutch, but very inconsistent otherwise. if ranking on talent and ability, his position is deserved; if ranking on production, this is a tough sell.

  • ONineMaen

    would monta been better than Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, or Terrell Brandon?? Also, put in Johnace Marlowee

  • joe

    love this guys game

  • Zabbah

    Great regular player but he wouldn’t make the top 50 players in the playoffs today. I’d take Kawhi Leonard over this playoff-scrub. Outside of the numbers, Kawhi can guard the other team’s best player. Joe just shrinks.

  • swag

    SHOW yourself

  • ATL dynamite

    Are you trying to state that JJ can’t play defense because that is terribly wrong

  • Zabbah

    No. The only thing I’m saying is I’d take Kawhi Leonard over Joe Johnson even if Joe was in his prime. What Kawhi did against Lebron in the Finals Joe would never accomplish.

  • eyal

    the saddest thing is that there are only 5 shooting guards among the 50 best players and 3 of them are 30+ years old.

  • ATL dynamite

    Got what you mean here, I would partly agree with what you said, but I think a decent part of Kawhi’s success accounts to the Spur’s mature system (defensively). This was something Joe never had whether at Phoenix, Atlanta or Brooklyn. I’m still a fan of both of the guys though :-)

  • davidR

    i rewatched that leon powe clip the other day. joe stepped on his foot causing him to fall

  • Interdico Scriptor

    why is that sad?

  • LakeShow

    I don’t like it. He didn’t make my top 50.

  • D.Cody

    Could easily be ranked higher. Offensively, he’s still one of the best scorers in the league. Defensively, he doesn’t get enough credit for being a good defender. Last season he couldn’t really display his defensive ability with Gerald Wallace guarding the Lebron James’ and the Paul Georges’, this year will be different though.

  • D.Cody

    Joe can too, he just wasn’t able to do so while playing beside Josh Smith in Atlanta and Gerald Wallace in Brooklyn.

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