Joe Johnson is off to a scorching start this season, averaging 22 points, seven rebounds, and five assists in the Nets' first three games, one of them a victory behind a scoring outburst from Johnson. But is that to much surprise? The 6'8" wing did carry the Nets through the first round of the postseason against the Raptors, and has been the most stable member of the roster since the team moved to Brooklyn. Jonathan Tjarks of RealGM doesn't think it's a surprise, and thinks that Johnson doesn't get enough credit for his unique style of play, dubbing the seven-time All Star as a future Hall of Famer.
Even as he moves into his mid 30’s, there are not many guys in the NBA who have Johnson’s ability to dominate an individual match-up in a seven-game series. Size and shooting ability are the two traits which correlate best with aging well and Johnson was one of the biggest and best shooting SG’s in the NBA at his peak. He is well on his way to a Hall of Fame career - he has made 7 All-Star teams and his game isn’t slipping much as he ages
The Nets are paying Johnson a great deal of money after the Hawks signed him to a max deal in the summer of 2010, $119 million, then traded him to the Nets. But in a big market with an owner who isn't afraid to spend, it's not that big of a deal like it was in Atlanta, a smaller market. Johnson has received a myriad of criticism from the pundits, and they have managed to overlook the Arkansas alum's stellar play.
Johnson has received a ton of criticism because he has been paid as much as guys like LeBron and Kobe over the course of his career, but that says more about how much those two are underpaid in the NBA’s economic climate. While he isn’t a franchise player in the sense that his presence on a team instantly makes them relevant, he brings a lot to the table in terms of helping his teams win and he hasn’t been on a lot of bad teams over the course of his career.
Atlanta won 13 games the year before they acquired Johnson. Their win total increased in each of his first five seasons with the franchise, peaking at 53 wins in 2010. The Hawks went to the playoffs five times with Johnson and advanced to the second round three times - they were a much better team than they were given credit for by the national media and there are a lot of franchises in the NBA who would kill for a 5+ year run anywhere close to that.
Tjarks notes that the trade in the summer of 2012 was supposed to be the signal of a new era in Atlanta, but the team hasn't made much of an improvement since Johnson left. "When they traded him to the Nets, it was supposed to be a dawn of a new era for the Hawks, but it hasn’t really worked out so far," Tjarks writes. "While they haven’t got much worse without Johnson, they haven’t gotten much better either. They lost in the first round in each of the last two seasons and they don’t appear to be any closer to becoming a contender in the Eastern Conference. There’s a good chance they end up unloading Al Horford and beginning a full-fledged rebuild."
As noted before, Johnson is stable, consistent, and has a skill set that can complement many players. Despite being an isolation-heavy player, Johnson can still work with players who need the ball in their hands (see Brook Lopez and Deron Williams). Tjarks writes that Johnson has never played less than 70 games only twice in his 13-year career, a fantastic mark for a player who has taken on such a burden from his teams.
As Tjarks concludes, he notes that no one is talking about Brooklyn as a threat this season. Nor does anyone talk about Joe Johnson. So maybe the two are a match made in heaven.
Few are talking about Brooklyn this season, but they are still a dangerous team that no one in the East is going to want to play in the first round. A large part of that has to do with Johnson, who is still one of the best wing players in the NBA. His max contract isn’t the most efficient use of resources, but there are far worse ways to spend $23 million. If the worst thing people can say about a guy’s career is he made too much money, he must have been doing something right.
- RealGM Blog: Joe Johnson Beyond The Contract - Jonathan Tjarks