Last night the Utah Jazz did something. I know, I'm as surprised as you are to see news come out of Utah during the first 24 hours of NBA Free Agency. But it's clear that General Manager Dennis Lindsey is not screwing around, and made good on his vow to be active. A number of names were swirling around the rumor mill, Solomon Hill, Jared Dudley, we may yet still see Luol Deng [Ed. Note -- When I started writing this Deng was still a FA] . . . but one name no one was hearing ended up signing with Utah. Who? Some forgettable benchwarmer, right? Nope. Try again. Okay, it must have been a one trick pony specialist that will never see the floor under Quin Snyder? While we can't predict that Snyder is going to do, it's pretty clear that this signing is going to be huge for future game plans. How huge? I'm talking about Joe Johnson huge.
The one non-huge thing about this reported signing (by Turner's David Aldridge) will be his contract -- reported to be $22 million over two years. In celebration of this here are 22 ways in which Joe Johnson is going to help the Utah Jazz:
This is the most obvious thing, so let's start there
Joe Johnson has been around. He was drafted #10 in the 2001 NBA Draft -- which is such a long time ago it's like going down memory lane looking at the names of the other players who started their careers that 2001-2002 season. He's played in 15 seasons in the NBA. And he has a lot of experience. A big reason for that is that he's a gamer. He takes care of his body, and since day one he was ready to contribute.
As a rookie he played in less than 2,000 minutes, mainly because a mid-rookie-season trade changed his role, but he still managed to average 24.88 mpg. As a rookie. Every year since he's played in at least 2,000 minutes a season, and at least 27.50 mpg. His career averages are 2,745.73 minutes per regular season, playing in 36.03 minutes a game. Those are very nice numbers. But they don't tell the full story.
And the full story is that this guy is like a mini- John Stockton or Karl Malone when compared to a lot of other wing players at his high level of play. He has played in 1,143 of a total 1,214 possible regular season games over his career -- an astounding 94.15%. The only times he really missed a lot of action was in 2006-2007 (just 57 games, 69.51%), annnnnd . . . . 2010-2011 (72/82 games, 87.80%). [Yes, playing in only 88% of the games in a season is his second lowest mark in his career.] Moreover, he has started 1,073 of 1,143 possible games, that's 93.88% for his regular season career. (He has played in every playoff game his teams have been in, 101 of them, and started all but the 6 he played when he was 21 years old.)
So if you add his playoff numbers to his regular season numbers the percentages for games played and games started both go up. And just in case you forgot, he played in 94% of the possible games, and started in 94% of them. Over a 15 year career. This is outstanding when you compare him to guys like Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, and Vince Carter -- high level wings from the same era with varying degrees of staying healthy during a season.
His 41,186 career NBA regular season minutes eclipses the actual amount of minutes the rest of the team has over their careers. It's also 27th most in combined NBA + ABA history (ahead of some dudes named Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Patrick Ewing, and Charles Oakley to name the five guys directly behind him). And when you add in his playoff minutes you see that he really fill a huge void for this not-so-young, but still so inexperienced team.
That's right, he has more playoff minutes over his career than the 15 other NBA Players on the team right now (including guys on non-guaranteed contracts), combined. Every time he steps out on the floor he will have more experience than the other four guys he is playing with, combined. (Except in the off chance he's on the floor with Hill, Burks, Hayward, and Favors -- which I don't think we feel is likely.)
He he is never injured, has played in a lot of seasons, games, and minutes over his career. So what?
Okay, he's been a part of 19 different Playoff series, being on the winning side in 7 of them. That's not a great mark, but if you look at every player who has been in the league (and playoffs) for so many years you'll find that it's hard to finish your career over .500 unless you play with Michael Jordan. Even LeBron's teams finish every season with at least one playoff series loss, except for three times ever.
He brings a lot to the table with just how long he's been in the NBA: 15 training camps, 11 years in the playoffs. He immediately is someone everyone can look up to who has actually been there before. At 35 he's moving into that mentor stage of his career, having made enough money and gotten enough stats to transcend the petty needs of younger, less established players. It's not just navel gazing either, his USG% last season was it's lowest since his rookie year. He's not the same old ball-hog who made over $20+ million a year.
Of course, he's still a seven time NBA All-Star who will get his chances to play his game. But overall, his experiences and what he's learned over the years will really fill a need on a roster that has very little to show for all the money they've made, and all the seasons they have been in the league.
#2: Ends the Utah Jazz Free Agency Drought
Can you name the best ever Free Agents in Utah Jazz history? I can -- and it's not a very inspiring list. The biggest ever names are Danny Manning at the end of his career, Tom Chambers at the end of his career, Mark Jackson at the end of his career, John Starks at the end of his career, and that one magical summer where the Jazz got Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur (as an RFA!). So that's six players, a few who were "one and dones," most of who were at the ends of their careers. (Honorable mention to Antoine Carr, Armen Gilliam, Chris Morris, John Amaechi, Matt Harpring, and Olden Polynice.) Those 12 players are the best Jazz free agents. That's a horrible lot compared to a lot of other teams out there. Since that golden off-season of Memo and Booz what has happened?
Not a lot of good.
Here's the chronological list of free agents since Memo and Booz: Keith McLeod, Aleksandar Radojevic, Devin Brown, Milt Palacio, Andre Owens, Jason Hart, Ronnie Price, Earl Watson, Francisco Elson, Jamaal Tinsley, Josh Howard, DeMarre Carroll, Randy Foye, John Lucas III, Erik Murphy, Trevor Booker, and Jeff Withey. The list looks even worse if we add in all the guys on 10-Day contracts who signed on
ass as Free Agents as well (Travis Leslie, Jerel McNeal, and Patrick Christopher say hi!).
Joe Johnson stops the circus train of sadness. He's old, yes. He's at the end of his career. But he's not a mercenary. He's not useless. He's not here just for one year. He's not playing for 29 other teams. And he's still got a lot to offer this team. He's not overpaid. And he's not inhibiting the development of players who may have longer-term futures with this team.
The last time the Jazz signed a free agent who was previously an All-Star / All-NBA player was 2002. Before that 2000. That was quite a few US Presidents ago. It's nice to break that very long, painful, talent-less dry spell.
Thank you Dennis Lindsey.
#3: The LHM Test
What once hurt you can only make you stronger
The ways of our ancestors was the ways of survival. What was learned was passed down to the next generation. And in the LHM Group of companies this meant seeking out alliances with those who had been previously your biggest threats. Outside of the board room and mergers, and onto the basketball court, this meant that you go after players who busted your team up. This was something former owner Larry H. Miller was notorious for suggesting. Sometimes it worked (Carlos Boozer), sometimes it did not (John Amaechi). But in the case of Joe Johnson it's clear that he has had a very good career feasting on the Utah Jazz.
Over his career he has played in 34 games against the Jazz (31 as a starter), and logged a healthy sample size of 1,182 minutes to gauge his play from. In those over 1k minutes he has averaged 16.79 ppg (.4764 .4409 .7339) off of 13.09 FGA a game (3.74 3PTA, 3.65 FTA). He also hurt the Jazz with 3.41 rpg, 3.38 apg (1.77 to 1.00 assist to turn over ratio), and 1.12 spg. To me a player who averaged, over a 15 year career, 17 / 3 / 3 / 1 while making over 40% of his threes fits the bill for specifically the type of player LHM would have agreed to adding.
If you drill down and look at some of his games against the Jazz, you see some crazy moments in time. First, you are reminded of that ridiculous 4OT game from 2012 -- Joe Johnson played 55 minutes in that game, and finished with 37 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and shot 50% off of 28 shots overall, and 57% from deep. If we are looking at him primarily as a scorer, there were a lot of buckets made against the Jazz:
- 30+ point games -- 3
- 25 to 29 point games -- 6
- 20 to 24 point games -- 3
- 15 to 19 point games -- 5
- 10 to 14 point games -- 8
- 5 to 9 point games -- 7
- 0 to 4 point games -- 2
He also missed a few triple doubles against Utah as well, none finer than his very balanced 2008 effort that had him finish with 14 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals, and 2 threes in 39 minutes of work. While he hasn't killed the Jazz as much as other wings have (Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant ) it's interesting to see his body of work has remained quite constant over the five teams he has played for over the last 15 NBA Seasons.
While he didn't set Utah on fire much as a percentage of all of his games against the Jazz, he was always a factor. If he can bring that relevancy to the Jazz bench this upcoming season it will be worth it.
Can I have your autograph please?
Joe Johnson is from the deep south. He is born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas and went on to hoop for the University of Arkansas. The Jazz have a number of other southerners on the squad in: Shelvin Mack (Kentucky) (I consider that the South, fight me), Derrick Favors (Georgia), and Rodney Hood (Mississippi). He may have an special relationship with those two. Johnson was "The Man" of those Atlanta Hawks teams that were coming onto the scene back when Favors was an Atlanta area high school phenom who would then spend one season at Georgia Tech. Hood, well, it's even more special there as Hood is Joe basketball idol.
So this marks the second time we have a young player on the Jazz who was drafted that was later on paired up with that player's idol growing up. The first was Dante Exum (2014 Draft) and Joe Ingles (2014 Free Agent). Now Rodney Hood (2014 Draft) and Joe Johnson (2016 Free Agent). I can't wait to see which pair the Jazz create next season. More than that, though, I can't wait to see what our young guys pick up from Johnson.
#5: Sage Advice
You know that thing that only Raja Bell did out of all of our vet free agent signings over the years
Let's be clear. None of John Stockton's many back-ups ever became All-Stars. Few, if any, of the players who worked with Karl Malone picked up anything from it. We only really saw improvement from Enes Kanter who runs the floor like Karl, and picked up a lot of head fakes from Al Jefferson -- and that may say more about Kanter's learning ability and less on those two player's abilities to mentor and teach. But, all that said, if Joe Johnson is able to teach a few of his tricks to the young Jazz players this signing is going to pay dividends down the road. Let's just go player by player here, and what they could possible glean from spending a season or two around Iso-Joe:
- Gordon Hayward (6'8 SG/SF/PF): Hayward has no post-up game, and as a lead guy hasn't been spectacular as a 1st option. Johnson does have a post-up game, and at times can put a team on his back and carry them to big wins. Johnson also has a more ideal diversity of where he gets his shots on the floor, and how he gets the ball. Hayward has bulked up to 230, but will be 10 pounds lighter than Johnson. I don't think we want him to get much bigger, but learn to better use his body to get an advantage over smaller defenders. Johnson is one of the last of a breed of guards who have post-up skills. Hayward desperately needs to get as much as he can to take his game to the next level.
- Alec Burks (6'6 SG/PG/Possible SF): Alec is mostly doing his work driving to the rim or getting to the line. He has the handles and quickness to get his own shot off, but Joe can teach him a lot about actually setting up a good shot that has a better chance to go in. There really isn't a lot of subtlety to Alec's game, but Joe is an old pro who battled for 15 years at the wing spot. He knows a lot of the tricks, especially hot to drive in control, and not be in a hurry to get the first shot off as it presents itself. In fact, Joe's crafty driving ability will only further help Alec get to the line, if he learns some of it. also almost never injured and already ready to play. Alec needs to figure out what Joe's doing between games in in off-season training if he's ever going to be healthy enough to be more than an X-Factor. Oh, and take more threes. Maybe not 4+ a game like Joe does, but at least 3.
- Rudy Gobert (7'2 C): Johnson played with a lot of smart bigmen who knew where to move in order to get the ball and easy buckets. Gobert is a smart player, but he's not a PhD guy with his Basketball IQ just yet. With the slow pace game it's more about communication and cooperation. Just like how Alec needs to learn how to better drive without wild abandon, Gobert can learn how to cut more effectively or otherwise occupy positive offensive space, instead of just camping under the rim. After all, Gobert has enough reach to dunk the ball from beyond the basket area. He needs to remember that.
- Dante Exum (6'6 PG/SG): You know who played SG/PG for the early "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns? Joe Johnson did. You know who needs to play more like that group of guards? Dante Exum. A lot of what Burks needs to learn can be applied here too. But even moreso on the playmaking angle, sometimes you have to call your own number. A more purposefully aggressive Dante is a very dangerous thing. Dante's youth, learning ability, and potential could make him a very versatile player like Johnson has become. If he's willing to learn from both Joes, Dante could one day reach the high expectations we have of him.
- Trey Lyles (6'10 PF/SF/C): Right now Joe Johnson is the team's best stretch-big, and he's not really a big. But do you know who is? Trey Lyes. He's a real big, but played almost all of his NCAA minutes at small forward. He can defend, drive, dish, dunk, and hit the three. I don't know how the Jazz brass want Lyles to develop, but there's a lot of things Johnson knows how to do that I'd love for a future-NBA-era bigman to have in his tool box. Even if it's just a simple thing like knowing how to move without the ball and get into possible scoring position. If I'm being greedy, I want Joe to teach him that perimeter zone up-fake that sets up his drive. Johnson's pull up is almost as good as his combination moves to get to the rim in those situations. I think the Maple Mamba may be able to emulate some of that.
- Rodney Hood (6'8 SG/SF): Saving the best for last here . . . but Hood needs to somehow download everything Johnson knows and install that software. Rodney is one of the keenest guys on the team, and he really listens well. Like the case of Kanter -- where it seems like the motivation of the student meant more than the abilities of the teacher -- I think Hood has the bench chance to gain something from Joe Johnson. Not just because he idolized him and modeled his game after him; but also because they really do a lot of the same stuff with the ball. The difference is that one is a 2nd year player and the other is a 7 time All-Star. Hood needs to offer to drive Johnson everywhere just so Joe can talk to him about the game, and Hood can listen. He's a sponge. And he needs to suck up all of that accumulated knowledge and wisdom asap.
If only three guys get better, and only get 20% of what Joe could be teaching them it will be a downer, but those three guys will really be a handful for years to come.
#6: Homozygous Dominant for the Clutch Gene
I have no clue what his biological parents did, but I do know that Joe Johnson is super clutch. He wins games. He doesn't turn the ball over the in 4th quarter. Even when the offense just stops to watch him, he can take on five guys and score when the team really needs it.
Or at least that's what he was like in his prime. He's 35 now. While age may have robbed him of some of his ability, he remains super clutch. And for a squad of guys who flunked their pass / fail test when the pressure is highest, he will be a steadying influence at the end of games. Also, that game winner against Denver last season? Nuts.
#7: Non-Jazz DNA
There is strength in congruence, especially when we are looking at team dynamics and corporate cultures. But in nature, diversity is strength. We've kept hearing about "Jazz DNA" for a while now. These are players who may have a slight chip on their shoulder for going to non-top of the line programs, or having smaller roles in college -- but getting there from the advantageous position of being decidedly middle-class, and coming from two working parent income families. These "good boys" don't embarrass the team, date pop stars, or have overly subversive social media accounts. For the most part they don't even fight back on the court when being disrespected and rather save their money instead of getting technical fouls.
It's a good clean product for families. But sometimes you miss out on some necessary fire. (Karl Malone, possibly the best player in franchise history, did not have "Jazz DNA" as he came from a broken home and had three kids out of wedlock before even entering the NBA Draft. Today's decision makers would pass on him if they hold fast to only drafting guys with "Jazz DNA".)
Sometimes talent makes a team better. And Joe Johnson has demonstrated that his entire life. And what probably has fuel Joe Johnson to some level has been his less than Mayberry upbringing. Joe Johnson was raised alone by his single-mother and did not have much if any interaction with his father or his side of the family. He his mother, a nurse, was assisted in raising him through family friends. Joe Johnson can't make Gordon Hayward know what it feels like to actually be hungry and have to make compromises and prioritize with what's the most important thing. Hayward grew up playing country club tennis and his parents cultivated for him one of the most expensive hobbies there can be (PC Gaming). Johnson can't possible teach that. But you are sure that he still plays what this life experiences leading his decisive decision making.
What Johnson, and his non-"Jazz DNA", brings to the franchise is what Evolutionary biologists refer to gene flow. In population genetics too much in-breeding can hurt the successive generations. Adding in genes from outside of the population allow for the hybridization of organisms. And from what we've seen in bacteria, and plants, and lower level animals -- and humans too -- is that hybridization can really make the successive generations stronger. (That's a link to a picture of a very young Dwayne Johnson, a mix of Afro-Canadian and Samoan, if you want to see some phenotypes in action.)
The Jazz culture isn't just one of indoor cats who drink milk from a bowl and don't get into fights. Not anymore. Johnson brings with him his own challenges in his life, which mean that not everyone on the team is so homogeneous anymore for "Jazz DNA".
And hey, sometimes non-"Jazz DNA" can lead to some very good things.
Now I'm not saying that Joe Johnson is "hood" or he isn't "hood". But he isn't "Hayward" or "Mayberry" ether. If this is not the way you want to go, move this back to a corporate culture. Too much group think is a very bad thing. Too many people seeing things in the same way and not straying from popular convention means you miss out on possible opportunities and probable setbacks. Making sure that one of your top rotation guys thinks different is always good. Call it Gene flow or whatever you want, the next "generation" of the Utah Jazz (the 2016-2017) season is going to be stronger because of Joe Johnson and his non-"Jazz DNA".
#8: A non-brittle, un-stale Cookie
Because idioms are better than theories
Remember all that from #1 about all of Johnson's experience? Well, he doesn't miss games (94% attendance in the regular season, 100% in the playoffs, 15 seasons in the NBA). He also plays a lot, 3k or more minutes in a season five times, 2k or more minutes in a season (not including the 3k level) 9 times. And with all of that milk he's been dipped in he's not a brittle, stale cookie. He's not injury prone. He's not coming in with a long list of things that have kept him from being a high level performer.
His health and wellness have been dependable parts of his game -- things a really weak and sickly Jazz crew would love to be able to depend on.
#9: Minutes of standing around and not scoring is a thing of the past
Lights! Camera! Inaction!
Because of their pace of play, because of their inability to get things going at times, because of their trouble defeating certain defenses, but most of all we hope because of the depth problem due to injuries -- the 2015-2016 Utah Jazz team just couldn't score. They couldn't score very well at all. Yes, they did have the 16th best ORTG in the land (Math Tip: In a 30 team league that's below average!) -- and with their 91.0 possessions per game (30th rank) they managed to put up only 97.7 ppg (28th rank). There were some scoring problems, especially when the injures started to pile up and the team needed to lean more and more on Joe Ingles and Christapher Johnson instead of, say, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks.
In some games it would seem like minutes would go by with ineffective and incompetent offensive play -- and foul trouble or injuries didn't make it easier. Worst still, I remember a number of fourth quarter finishes where the team just couldn't get a basket. Way too many road games were lost in the 4th and overtime (remember that Charlotte game? Man. And then the Knicks right after?) where the team was ahead.
It's not like Utah was being locked up by a Cleveland Cavaliers Championship level effort (preventing the Golden State Warriors from scoring in their last 4 minutes of a Game 7). This was at times not being able to solve the Clippers 3rd stringers, at home.
The defense is what may eventually bring the Jazz to the NBA Playoffs. No one doubts that. But it's the lack of scoring that may keep the Jazz from advancing. Joe Johnson will solve that almost single-handedly. Well, that's hyperbole, as he hasn't scored 20 or more ppg since 2009-2010. (A bunch of 18+ ppg seasons since then, but that's not a nice round number like 20.)
When Gordon Hayward went to the bench all bets were off on some nights. And in the few games he missed it was a surprise anything happened. Joe Johnson can get his own shot whenever he wants. He can play in a system. He knows how to run a pick and roll, and knows how to drive smartly -- and he's crafty enough to get to the line against every bench unit. If he's captaining the bench groups the team is not going to go for 2+ minutes without points ever again.
How many games were lost due to missing free throws, or not getting that one extra bucket to put the Jazz over the top? Too many. How many games now that Joe Johnson is on the Jazz? We don't know, but we have a strong feeling it's going to be much less.
#10: A resume of making baskets
James Naismith would be proud.
Joe just has a complete resume when it comes to what he's done with his 15 years in the league. He's a pair of strong playoff runs away from cementing the theory that he could be a Hall of Fame player at some point. (His career numbers are up there. BBALL Ref puts him at 20th out of all active players right now.) But regardless if he's a HOFer, he has done a lot with his time on the court.
Joe has the 49th most field goals in ABA / NBA history. TOP 50! OF ALL TIME!
That's the culmination of a long, productive career that doesn't look like it's ending any time soon.
He's 51st All-Time in points.
I don't think anyone expected that when he was drafted.
He's 9th All-Time in three pointers made.
TOP 10! FROM DOWNTOWN.
Even if some Jazz fans are worried about Joe Johnson, the record books aren't.
He makes almost 500 buckets a season (493.53333), and 6.5 per game. He's not the most efficient scorer out there, but he's someone who had done that one thing that has eluded our team a lot during the last few seasons -- put the orange ball thing through the orange hoop thing. And when the team needs a basket, he's really good at making them and creating them for others. (67th All-Time in Assists, by the way.)
As of yet, there's no known tally of how many ankles he has broken though.
#11: Three Point Ability
Imagine someone making open threes . . . what a wonderful world that would be
Maybe he's not going to be the 1st option all the time, or even start. Maybe he will not star in Utah, but be a complimentary player. Whatever the case may be it's fair to say that whatever he does do on the court will be somewhat predicated on his ability to hit threes. You know, remember when I said he had the 9th most in NBA History? Yeah. He's about 50 behind Kyle Korver (as a point of reference for career bombing), and could move up into the Top 5 by the time his Utah Jazz contract is up.
He's more of a rhythm shooter who can create his own shot, and while that may have been more of his style in ATL and BKN, that's not all he can do. Yes, it's true, for his career he's a 37.2% shooter from downtown, but he makes 40.7% of his corner threes. Only 37.0% of his threes are from the corner though. However, last season when he was with the Heat 50% of his threes were from the corner, and he made 40.5% of them.
2015-2016 Full Season Heat Map via. Basketball-Reference.com
That would be an amazing asset to add to our squad of guys who either shot threes and missed, or didn't shoot threes they probably would have made. (Oversimplification, I know. But I'm at over 10k words right now.)
I know other Jazz writers are furiously churning out Johnson takes, and I don't want to drink all of their milkshakes 100% of the time. So I'll just move onto the next point knowing that someone else will be writing about his three point abilities.
#12: Post-Up Ability
I remember watching the Toronto Raptors get knocked out of the playoffs by Joe Johnson, vividly. He did this in 2014. And he really hurt Toronto's wings with his back to the basket game. He could score, pass, or draw the foul. At ease.
#13: The Last Five Years in focus
Dude. He's been a monster. This time period is from his last season in Atlanta, through Brooklyn, and his run with Miami. He's not the same type of player as he was in the middle five years of his career, scoring over 20 a game on a bunch of reasonable but not spectacular Atlanta teams. This was the Killer Joe Johnson of winning games and taking names.
Sure, he was only an All-Star twice during this period and his PPG went down each year: 18.8, 16.3, 15.8, 14.4, and 12.2 -- but that's a reflection of the teams he was on, the role he had, and the better quality of teammates he had to play with. After all, when you are finally paired up with All-NBA players (Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade) you don't have to shoot it each time down the floor anymore. He was still effective on the court, with his ORTGs going as 110, 109, 110, 105, and 104. DRTG isn't something we look for here, but I admit it hasn't been great.
His rebounding (and this PER) has fallen. He doesn't pass as much as he did with the ball always in his hands as a product of pace of play -- but his AST% today is better than in those Phoenix Suns days. Yes, his AST% over the last five is lower than it was in ATL (where he was the SG and PG at the same time and not playing with D-Will and Wade). But it's still about 1/5th of his teams AST when he's out on the floor. He's not really a ball hog, though he does shoot a lot. The evidence for this is his 2015-2016 AST% being higher than his USG%. This is a more mature, team playing Joe Johnson.
We think he's on the decline. His age tells us to expect it. And his numbers reflect these assumptions. But that doesn't negate what he can do on the floor in general. He may not be busting out for 50 anytime soon. But as a guy who can make shots for himself and others, and hurt bad defenses that don't know how to deal with his inside / outside game you have to love what he brings to the table. Even at 35 years of age and going into his 16th season in the NBA.
#14: Built for the NBA Playoffs
Tempered by games that matter
Joe Johnson has played a lot. I think we've established this. He's never hurt (really jinxing it here, I know), and he plays a lot of minutes, and he plays in a lot of games. He has a perfect attendance record in the NBA Playoffs. The Jazz have pretty much ZERO playoff experience. The team leaders Hayward and Favors (and Burks) got swept in four games -- after the then team leader (Al Jefferson) proclaimed the series over after two games, and gave up shortly after.
Pretty much the opposite has been Joe Johnson's playoff career. Heck, you wouldn't know who has more career playoff blocks between Big Al or Joe now would you? That's some trivia for you to look up, the answer will surprise you. But we're not here to talk about blocks only. Joe Johnson has poured it on in the playoffs, scoring 1,674 points off of 1,497 shot attempts. A 1.12 PPS (points per shot) value isn't efficient. But in a world were volume matters, few have been louder in the playoffs than Joe. That really is the opposite of non-impact player Al Jefferson.
For our purposes Joe is a rotation player who helps teach Hayward and Favors what it takes to be in the playoffs and actually advance. Joe knows about that, he's done it quite a few times in his career:
- 2005 NBA Playoffs 1st Round: Memphis Grizzlies
- 2005 NBA Playoffs 2nd Round: Dallas Mavericks
- 2009 NBA Playoffs 1st Round: Miami Heat (7 Games)
- 2010 NBA Playoffs 1st Round: Milwaukee Bucks (7 Games)
- 2011 NBA Playoffs 1st Round: Orlando Magic
- 2014 NBA Playoffs 1st Round: Toronto Raptors (7 Games)
- 2016 NBA Playoffs 1st Round: Charlotte Hornets (7 Games)
He's also been on the receiving end of a few 7 Game Series losses, so Joe's been in a lot of pressure games. Playing in so many close out games (on the winning side and losing side) is something none of our current Jazz men even have any idea about.
Joe does. #JoeKnows
#15: What we learned from the Miami Heat run
Adjusting his game to the player on the court, filling in where needed
Agreed, the Joe Johnson of the 2016 Miami Heat was not the Joe Johnson of the Atlanta Hawks or the Joe Johnson of the Brooklyn Nets. But the Joe Johnson of the Miami Heat gives us a great insight into what the Joe Johnson of the Utah Jazz could be. Compared to his 57 games with the Nets last season, with the Heat he shot slightly less per game (10.5 shots a game instead of 10.7) but his percentages were mostly all up -- because on a team that shared the ball and had many weapons he got better looks. In fact, he got some great looks because he didn't have to be the ball handler and first option on the same play, all game long. (By the way, keep this in mind for trying to speculate on how Johnson will help Hayward out.) While Joe shot less in Miami his scoring went up, from 11.8 ppg to 13.4 ppg. This is even more remarkable when you see that he played fewer minutes a game as well. In a Heat uni his shooting splits were .518 / .417 / .765 -- the only thing that dropped was his FT% from the previous great .852. Joe became a better offensive finisher in their team schemes, which were a huge departure from what he was forced into doing on the Nets.
More than that, Johnson fit in on a team, started every game and played over 30 mpg, that featured two previously established ball handlers in Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic. And his presence made both of them better off the bounce, or standing still. Even with that being the case, in the regular season he still posted USG% / AST% / TOV% values of 18.4% / 17.9% / 13.9%. He was a part of what they were doing, while not being a disproportionately large part of what they were doing. In the NBA Playoffs he played the second most minutes on the team (only Luol Deng had more), and his USG% / AST% / TOV% values changed to 18.1% / 11.6% / 9.6%. While his offensive game shifted some, partly because his 3PT% really plummeted to 28.3%, he still found ways to be effective on the court for Miami. In fact, he accumulated more Defensive Win Shares in the playoffs than Offense. He was a big reason why the Heat were a game away from the Eastern Conference Finals.
And more immediately, he was a big reason why the Heat finished the regular season and entered the playoffs at such a high level of play. Watch this video by Coach Nick of Basketball Breakdown:
While there are some similar things Erik Spoelstra does to Quin Snyder there are some key difference. But on offense, with the ball sharing and personnel that Quin Snyder wants to play, I think there's going to be plenty of analogs here that make Joe Johnson worth signing, and this video worth watching -- especially for how he changes the game / makes it easier for the primary ball handler (will be Gordon Hayward), the point guard who can spot up or drive (George Hill), and especially for the bigman who has a limited offensive game outside of close range (Rudy Gobert).
His play with Miami was short but sweet, and reminded us all of what he is capable of. He is a multi-skill wing with lots of tools. A 13 / 4 / 3 / 1 guy would have been in the running for the 2015-2016 Utah Jazz' second best player. Or at worst, a really great upgrade to their anemic wing rotation.
Hard to argue with my premise when he's a guy who can go out there and kill a team all by himself.
2016 vs. the Stan Van Gundy coached, defensive-minded, Playoff bound Detroit Pistons
#16: The "Small Ball" Four
From PG/SG to SF/PF in 15 seasons
You may not remember at all, but during his first few seasons in the league back when he was on the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns our very own Joe Johnson was regarded as a combo guard. Sure, he could also run around at the three as a 6'8 player, but his skill set and in particular his ball-handling abilities were one where playing the one wasn't out of the question. And he did! His size, skills, and overall versatility made him an asset on each stop of his journey. And yes, we do primarily regard him as a wing player (SG/SF or SF/SG), but that's not all he can do on the court.
One thing that has been very impressive to me is how he has continued to change his game and his body, giving him more longevity as a player. The 6'8 star LeBron James also started out his career as a point guard, but now is playing more and more power forward. The 6'7 star Paul Pierce has also done the same, transitioning from a player who was pretty much exclusively on the wings to being someone who can take advantage of shifting trends in the NBA to transition into a small-ball four. These two players are not alone in this feat of transmutation -- 6'8 star Joe Johnson is also someone who is getting out on the floor to play the four. (Also, he's 240 pounds and 35 years old, evolve or die. He wasn't going to play a lot of point guard moving forward.)
When you break down his position playing time by which stage of his career is in you see something pop up.
|Team||G||MIN||MPG||SG%||SF%||Other%||Estimated "Other" MPG|
With the Miami Heat he was playing almost an entire quarter at power forward. That's significant enough for me to be satisfied with his stretch big / small-ball four qualifications. Especially since that boosted up to 40% of all of his playing time in the NBA Playoffs last year, on a team that was a win away from the Eastern Conference Finals. It's not just a one year bump either, he's been in the "At least 30% of his playing time at PF" range in each of his last two seasons with the Brooklyn Nets in their playoff sojourns in 2014 and 2015 as well.
It's a trend we're going to see more and more, with bigger wings playing power forward. And it's a trend that the venerable Joe Johnson is still capable of playing at a high level.
#17: This Video
Offense is greater than Defense at times
We've seen guys not react when things happen. We've seen guys stand up for themselves when things happen. We Jazz fans haven't really seen guys start stuff for no reason though. Good on' ya, Joe. Eff the Chicago Bulls.
#18: Not a Mercenary
Not a soldier of fortune
How can you be "all-in" on this Free Agency signing after being so down on all the other veterans brought in over the last few seasons? It's easy, this Joe Johnson signing is a) to help the team win now; but unlike all the other #vets era guys, b) he's not doing to do it at the direct expense of the younger players who comprise the working core of this team going forward. Joe Johnson on a two year deal is a lot better, even if he's 35, than the additions of Josh Howard (one year rental, disrupted entire momentum when thrust into starting line-up in the 2012 Playoffs), Richard Jefferson (2213 minutes, started 78 of 82), Randy Foye (2249 minutes invested in him for a one-year rental, half of that should have gone to Alec), Mo Williams (traded for, I have no long-term beef with him, but was 100% a short term move), Marvin Williams (love, love, love Marvin but shouldn't have started for 101 of his 139 Jazz games), or Brandon Rush (somehow played almost as much as Rudy, under Tyrone Corbin). All of those guys were gunning not just on the court, but for their next contract after their predicted short-stop in Utah. Heck, Brandon Rush was still on contract with the Jazz when he was partying with the Golden State Warriors after games.
Johnson isn't making a lot of "bank" by playing with Utah. And at 35 with a deal that ends when he'll be 37, this could be his last stop. Of course, everyone wants the flexibility of being offered a next contract. But I don't think J.J. is specifically doing that, or coming to the vet deprived Jazz in some sort of calculated move. (Reminds me of him in Atlanta when interviewed by Dime Mag, and he was in a room with walls of book shelves and didn't have one single book in them. This dude isn't Petyr Baelish. Don't worry.) If this is the end of the road for him, and it may or may not be, then it's not the best spot if he was playing here just for a chance to play somewhere else after.
If anything, this could be a good fit for him to win on a team that values his service -- while still not hemorrhaging their future. It will be good for Joe Johnson. And it will be good for the Utah Jazz. And that's nothing like what the last few "vets" left the Jazz feeling like.
#19: Line-Up Possibilities and Potential
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!
The Utah Jazz front office under Dennis Lindsey wants long players who can switch and defend. The head coach Quin Snyder is favoring a deliberate attack where the offense is predicated by multiple ball-handlers who can initiate the offense from a variety of spots on the floor. Everyone needs to know what to do with pick and rolls and dribble hand-offs. It's really that new "position-less" basketball that the entire league is moving towards. And when you have a guy who can basically play point guard, shooting guard, small forward, and no power forward on offense you have a wildcard in your deck.
Snyder has a stable of guys to play with. And I hope we see some experimentation during pre-season. By my count, the 240 pound Johnson can get on the floor in almost any situation, including on defense if need be. He's not a spring chicken but his quickness and ability to switch off onto point guards late in games is going to be better than that of some of our bigmen. The fact that he's not a complete defensive liability in the point guard / pick and roll heavy Western Conference means that Snyder can put out line-ups there to adjust to whatever the other team does. Or, more deviously, he can force the other team into adjusting to the Jazz.
Here are just some of the possible line-ups we could see this year:
- Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Joe Johnson, Trey Lyles, and center to be named later (Jeff Withey? Tibor Pleiss?) -- you have a lot of youth and an obvious captain of the ship. Lyles being able to sit in a corner and hit threes means you can post up Johnson on the other side of the floor. Posting him up against bench wings? Great! Posting him up against bench point guards because Quin Snyder's offense uses a lot of screens and off-ball action? Straight cash, homey. You still have three wing players who can all handle the ball, drive, get to the line, and spot up. I hope this line-up has a big who is good at setting screens, because Johnson knows how to use them to get open. Pass-first Dante will make sure he gets the ball if he is. Why does it look like our bench unit for 2016-17 is better than our starting unit from 2013-14? Crazy. (You know, aside from recency bias.)
- George Hill, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson, Derrick Favors -- Oh, you want to go small, we can go small and still be dominantly tall and long. Going with Favors here over Rudy Gobert -- but clearly either guy is a beast and key recipient of dump off passes for slams. We may see this line-up in the fourth quarter of a lot of games this up-coming season. And this line-up is going to cause a lot of problems for the few remaining teams out there who can't go 5-on-5 in a small-ball line-up while still playing defense. There are three guys here who can make game winners, and four guys who are willing to rotate the ball around the horn and get the ball to the open man -- and all four of them are strong enough shooters to take and make the open shot. This is high screen and roll territory all day with lots of off-ball movement. The versatility of the four smaller guys allows for the team to probe, shift, change, screen, and keep the dribble alive until the right miss-match presents itself. I don't see the team picking up the pace to finish games, so when this does happen expect good results.
- George Hill, Joe Johnson, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert -- This is the "Temptation Line-up" because it's the five best players on the team right now, and the temptation will be to start them all together. You can switch around G-Time and Iso-Joe here at the SG/SF spots, but this is the line-up that is most "Playoff Ready" right now. And in a #PlayoffPush year (#GTimeorBust #AllInForGordon) these are the five players who could be most responsible for making it happen. I know Rodney Hood is presumed to be the starter, and it's not just because he's a Duke guy. But you never know when you're going to see this line-up. It could be to start a game or 20 for all we know.
- Raul Neto, Dante Exum, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson, Rudy Gobert -- This line-up is basically just "The Rudy Gobert Alley-Oops All-Day" line-up. It's quick at the guards, savvy at the forwards, and has a bigman in the middle who missed out on a lot of double-doubles last season because he would finish with 8 or 9 points. That's not going to happen again this season, not if this line-up gets two minutes of run in the 3rd quarter.
- Joe Johnson, Gordon Hayward, Trey Lyles, Rudy Gobert, Tibor Pleiss -- Why the heck not? Shortest players are 6'8, tallest are 7'2 and 7'3. I don't know if a 35 year old 240 pound Joe Johnson is going to be able to guard point guards today, but this is just a stupid crazy line-up to even imagine. You're welcome.
#20: Can be the Alpha Dog in any Line-Up depending on need
On a team of puppies, sometimes you need someone to lead the pack
The best player on the Utah Jazz the last few seasons has been Gordon Hayward. And on some nights he was the best player solely by default. We've seen him hit some big shots over his career, and take over games (the game in LA against the Los Angeles Clippers this past season comes to mind, the game at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers also stands out, from two seasons ago). But my personal feeling is that Hayward has been overburdened by his role. Sure, in High School and at Butler in the NCAAs it was easier for him to be "The Man". But at the NBA level against the best players in the world the "Hayward as The Man" has resulted in three straight lottery trips and a first option scorer who never broke 20 ppg even once. That's not all on G-Time, but at the same time, so much as been placed upon him. As a consequence, we haven't seen the best Gordon Hayward can be. Injuries to his squad is part of that. A lack of development for his squad is another. But bringing Joe Johnson into the fold solves a lot of problems.
Joe Johnson is going to make Gordon better. On some nights Joe will have the hot hand and the match-up advantage. Or he could be the guy getting open from all the penetration. Either way, Joe could flourish in Utah, and the rest of the Jazz can flourish because of him -- starting with Gordon Hayward. And on these nights Gordon is going to be so much deadlier because he can move into that Scottie Pippen role that his game style and personality naturally gravitate towards.
Down the stretch of games if the Jazz are posting up Iso-Joe it will be Gordon free to cut to the basket or spot up from three. It puts the ball into the hands of a proven, reliable scorer who has faced triple teams before on the regular, and allows Gordon to do stuff he didn't get to do since the team said goodbye to Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.
Of course, it's not going to be every night where Joe Johnson is going to be the Alpha-Dog over Gordon Hayward. But it can happen in every line-up Quin Snyder throws Joe into. Off the bench? Absolutely. In the starting lineup? Yes. To close games out? Of course.
A 35 year old Joe Johnson isn't the star he used to be. But he's still a seven time All-Star and former All-NBA player who has played for Team USA in the past. On a team without a player who has done ANY of those things he fills another void. This isn't Joe Johnson's team. It's possible that he doesn't even start or average 30 mpg on this Jazz squad. But when he is in there he can make a huge difference for a team that many-a-night lacks a killer instinct, a go-to-guy, or a leader. Johnson helps you win a lot of those games that are decided by five points or less. And he can do it as the guy with the ball in his hands, or he can be a complimentary guy. Either way, Gordon and he rest of the team will be better with him on the floor at the end of games. And "White Pippen" could put up All-Star numbers this year as a result.
#21: NBA Playoffs 2008 - Atlanta Hawks vs. Boston Celtics, Game 4
The night Joe Johnson went 'Nova
There's a good chance that if you were not even a teenager back in 2008 there's no recollection of this tangible historical event. But for someone who was on the nascent Basketball Twitter back then I can tell you that this was a crazy night in the NBA. But nothing was crazier that night than Joe Johnson. The Atlanta Hawks were the lowly #8 seed that was set up for slaughter against the #1 Boston Celtics. The 2008 Celtics were a team that rolled over the entire NBA to 66 regular season wins and an eventual NBA Championship against their most hated rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers. But before we get to Kevin Garnett screaming on a parquet floor we have to go back to the first round. And before the Boston Celtics could get out of the first round, they had to deal with a seven-game series against these Hawks.
Boston dominated Atlanta in the first two games, winning 104-81 and 96-77. Atlanta fought back and won Game 3 by nine points, and we all expected that this was the "Gentleman's sweep" victory, and Boston would win the next two games. One man wasn't so convinced -- and it was a 26 year old Joe Johnson. The quiet leader of Atlanta let his game do his talking for him as he wound up scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter of a close game, and changed the Series story-line single-handedly.
N.B. You only need to watch half of this video, the 2nd half is a credits section or something.
It was an amazing performance, and it was absolute Bedlam on twitter. But the Joe Johnson game quickly moved from social media to those weird things called "blogs". Hardwood Paroxysm founder Matt Moore wrote this amazing, inspiring piece on that night. And truth be told, reading this is what made me want to write more on the internet about the team and spot that I loved.
"‘Going Nova"-v: To accelerate your game in an explosive manner, to the point where you are shining so bright it's hard to see anything else happening on the floor.
(Ex. "Well, the Blazers hung in there, but then Kobe went Nova, and it was all over.")
The Atlanta Hawks were hanging, but that's not enough versus a team like the Celtics. With Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo, along with the best defense in the league this season, just chipping along isn't going to get it done. They needed someone to go off, someone to push the Hawks over. After all, this was essentially a matchup of individual athleticism versus team concept and concentrated veteran star power. So naturally the only way Atlanta was going to even the series was if a player were to raise his game, to explode. And someone did.
Joe Johnson went Nova.
Scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter is the stuff of legend. To do it in the playoffs, on an 8th seed against a #1 seed, no, THIS #1 seed, is EPIC Nova. And it wasn't a quiet, Tim Duncan Nova, either. It was a stunning combination of floaters, jumpers, and mid-slash faders. All of this punctuated, of course, by the absolutely sick, mind-melting, ankle-breaking, tell-Daddy-you-love-him-now-sit-down-and-let-him-roll-them-bones, crossover into the step back three.
This kind of offense is rare, it is beautiful, and it's part of what makes this game so transcendent for small moments in time.
You can read the full report of the event here, and I recommend that you do. In a very real way, this 'Nova Joe Johnson game and the HP write-up were contributing factors for me to go from a "casual NBA writer guy who shared his thoughts online" to being someone who would end up on a path covering NBA events for a billion dollar company. I'll never forget both for the parts they played, and how without it I wouldn't have even joined SLC Dunk in the first place.
#22: If it doesn't work, it's only a two-year deal
It's a very easy to digest contract
Joe Johnson signed for two years, at an average of $11 million a season. We do not yet know how the entire contract is structured, how much more the second year is, or if it is front-loaded. And we do not know if there are any options, incentives, or conditions. What we do know is that on paper $11 million is a lot of money. But compared to the $23 million he was on the books for with the Brooklyn Nets last season, the final year of his monster deal, and whatever change he got from the Miami Heat after he was bought out ($400k) it's clear that this is a paycut.
As it stands at this moment, the Utah Jazz are still $14.2 million under the cap AFTER signing one of the biggest contracts in franchise history. And depending on if it is front-loaded or if the team releases non-guaranteed players (like Shelvin Mack or) then that number could change. But for the sake of this argument . . . let's say that it's a flat $11 million per. When looking at the raw numbers it's scary for a guy on the downside of his career, years away from his peak. But when you convert it to the cap percentage things get a little better. In the 2016-2017 NBA Season the Salary Cap is projected to be $94 million dollars. In the next season it rises to a mindbogglingly high $107 million. When you convert his salary into a percentage of the cap you get the following:
- 2016-2017: Joe Johnson is on the books for 11.7% of the cap
- 2017-2018: Joe Johnson is on the books for 10.3% of the cap
There are 15 roster spots in the NBA, and if you paid them all equally that means everyone should get 6.7% (repeating .666666666) of the cap. That's one "Share". Here we see Joe Johnson getting about two shares this year, and less than two shares the following. (If we are looking at the salary cap like it's Pirate's Booty, which is clearly where my mind is at as I try to make sense of these very large numbers.) Johnson is going to be one of the Top 9 guys on the rotation, probably our 6th man if he doesn't start. He's taking a pay cut here. He very well could be the 2nd leading scorer on the team this season with his primacy on offense and late game ability.
On the Utah Jazz 1998 NBA Finals team Bryon Russell (regular season 6th man) made $2.9 million out of a Salary cap of only $26.9 million. His salary percentage was 10.8% of the cap. , the second leading scorer on the team, made $4.2 million that season, which is 15.6% of the cap value. Going back to "Pirate Shares" that's over 2x shares, where as Joe never once makes that much. (He's close at 11.7% this upcoming year, but it's still less than the 13.2% that two shares would be.)
So I'm making some grand comparisons here, our 2nd leading scorer (Horny) or our 6th man (B-Russ). If Joe Johnson is less important to our team next season then you could make an argument that he is overpaid. However, I don't think that's a very strong argument to make with a cap that's over $100 million in our near future.
The money is one thing. The other thing is that this is just a two year deal. Yes. Joe just turned 35 on June 29th. By the time his contract ends he will be 37. He could retire and be out of the Jazz' hair. Or if the situation is dire, a $11 million expiring contract will be easy to move in the 2017 off-season. This is virtually a very short term problem if there is a problem. And I don't think this is going to be one.
As it stands right now, the Jazz are super-duper under the cap going forward, and will have enough money to pay the core players their market value. This Joe Johnson deal (one year shorter than the deals for Jared Dudley, Ish Smith, Mirza Teletovic, and Jerryd Bayless; two years shorter than the deals Chandler Parsons, Kent Bazemore, Even Turner, Jordan Clarkson, Solomon Hill, and E'Twaun Moore just signed) doesn't break the bank and doesn't mess up the Jazz cap going forward.
Need something more? Luol Deng, who will be playing SF/PF for the Los Angeles Lakers next season just signed for $72 million over four years. That $18 million per is 19.2% of next year's salary cap. Dodged that bullet.
I still can't believe the Utah Jazz signed a solid vet who was a starter on a playoff team last year, a seven time All-Star. Yes, he's nearing the end of a great career. But I think he has a little left in the tank still. As a player, as a mentor, as whatever. This could be a great signing by Dennis Lindsey and the Utah Jazz.