SLAMonline Top 50: Joe Johnson, no. 26

by September 27, 2008

by Earl K. Sneed

While Joe Johnson was in Phoenix, the picture of what he could become was always hazy. You certainly never saw it during  the 48 games he spent in Boston his rookie year. But now J.J. is in the ATL, and he is undeniably the No. 1 option on the offensive end for the Hawks, and the picture is no longer blurry.

J.J. averaged over 20 per game each of his three seasons for the Hawks, and last year it finally paid off with a playoff berth. The athletic swingman has shown that he is one of the most versatile players in the league, spending time at the point and two guard positions throughout his career, while also using his 6-7, 235-pound frame to slide over and guard athletic small forwards.

It’s hard to believe the kid who spent just two seasons at Arkansas, before leaving for the pros after a sophomore All-American campaign, is now 27. He is now ready and poised to serve serious notice to the Eastern Conference this season, after the upstart Hawks pushed the Celtics to the brink of a first round exit. In the series, J.J. averaged 20, while shooting 44 percent from behind the arch.

Last season, Johnson rebounded from an injury-shortened 57-game season the previous year – in which he was averaging 25 per – to have his second best statistical year.

Johnson is one of the rare players that can go left and right, work off of screens to get open from deep, work with the ball in his hands to get his own shot or get others involved, or take small shooting guards down to the block. Oh, and did I mention that he has one of the prettiest Js in the game?

While other players at his position are getting all of the pub while shooting under 40 percent from the field, J.J. has a career 44 percent average from the field, putting up consistent averages in the points column.

One thing keeping Johnson from moving up the charts, for these rankings’ purposes, is the fact that he is a “tweener.”

He is not a deadly sharp-shooting assassin, but he is also not a surefire iso-guy that can put his team on his back and get a shot from anywhere on the court at any time, and mainly in the clutch. At least he hasn’t shown that he is night in and night out. But keep in mind, very few guys are.

No one expects for J.J. to be mentioned in the same sentence as Kobe, LeBron and D-Wade, but for the Hawks to go from a David versus Goliath like effort against the C’s to a perennial contender, Johnson will have to improve from No. 26 to No. 15 on this list, and he can’t rely on the emergence of Josh Smith and Al Horford to get the Hawks over the top.

J.J. is a more than adequate scorer and shooter, but as the No.1 option, he has not shown ATL fanatics that he can ascend to the next level. Can he average 25 plus and still shoot over 40 percent from deep? For that matter, can he still knock down 40 percent from deep, a feat that he hasn’t reached since knocking-down close to 48 percent from behind the arch in his last year as a Sun.

So, the big questions are what can J.J. do to join the game’s elite, and how will he lead the Hawks now that they’re no longer a secret?

Either way, you know what you’re getting from Employee No. 2, and anything he shows this season will simply be icing on the cake. Already a 2-time All-Star, keep your eyes on Johnson this season, now that he is surrounded by the right supporting cast. The picture is clear – J.J. is quietly one of the best that the league has to offer, and if he continues to progress, he will soon be a household name.

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