The Nets will need Joe Johnson at optimal performance if they expect to make the playoffs --and to keep Johnson from missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006-- but the veteran shooting guard's body may finally be betraying him.
Joe Johnson may not be an old man in real word terms, but in the context of an NBA player, he's slowly going over the hill. Turning 34-years-old at the end of June, Johnson has more mileage on his tires than most players at that age. Over the past dozen years, Johnson has logged more minutes, regular season and postseason combined, than any player in the NBA not named LeBron James.
When our Net Income asked the veteran during training camp if he was aware of that stat, he was surprised, but didn't find it hard to believe. "No I did not," Johnson said, with a pause, then added, "but I feel it."
To compound matters further, Johnson has been playing with tendinitis in his right knee and left ankle since the end of January. These factors have led Johnson to the worst month he's had all year. In March, he's averaged only 11.7 points per game on 42.4% shooting from the field and only 30.9% from beyond the arc.
Johnson is only averaging 32.7 minutes per game in March, so it seems like Lionel Hollins is staying true to his word and reducing Johnson's minutes to keep him from falling apart. However, recent trends suggest a boost in workload for the shooting guard may be possible. He's played at least 35 minutes in five of the past six games, including 48 minutes in the triple-overtime win against the Milwaukee Bucks on March 20. Some of those minutes were played against the opponents' 4, with all the attendant bumps, scratches and bruises
Joe Jesus doesn't necessarily need to start the KG regiment, but with Easter and the playoffs approaching, it might be wise for Hollins to sit Johnson a game or two and hope for a resurrection. The problem is the Nets are fighting for a playoff spot and even with Thaddeus Young returning from injury and Bojan Bogdanovic scoring well (on occasion), Brooklyn can ill afford to keep one of its top scorers on the bench but if they continue to play him into the ground, they may get into the playoffs but potentially with Johnson in street clothes instead of his uniform.
What's that they say about a rock and a hard place?