Back during the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals, Dwyane Wade and a few of his Miami Heat teammates were in the visiting locker room at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center preparing to go up against the Nets. Inevitably, the conversation shifted to the player they feared the most on the opposing team, Joe Johnson.
Wade talked about how strong Johnson was, and other teammates agreed about how tough he was to guard. While LeBron James and Miami dispatched Brooklyn in five quick games, the praise for Johnson resonates now that Wade and James will now be competing for who gets to call Johnson his teammate.
Johnson, the 34-year-old seven-time All-Star guard, was bought out and waived by the Nets on Thursday. Assuming he clears waivers on Saturday afternoon, he’ll be a free agent. Before the start of the new calendar year, Johnson was horrible to the point where this columnist had to write about his demise. Since then, Johnson’s renaissance has been pronounced.
|Joe Johnson||Min||FG %||3 FG %||Pts||Ast||Reb||TS %||O Rtg||D Rtg|
|Before Jan. 1||34.6||35||30.2||10.5||3.8||4.1||44.1||92||111|
|Since Jan. 1||33||48.4||46||13.4||4.4||3.7||61||112||115|
The difference in his play and statistics since Jan. 1 are light years ahead of what he was in the 2015 portion of this season. To shoot 46 percent from three over a 25-game span is unbelievable even for the game’s best players. And if a contender needs a big-time clutch shot-maker, nobody has hit more of them over the last five seasons than “Joe Jesus.”
That locker room talk two years ago could have a large impact on this year’s playoff race. James’ Cavs, Wade’s Heat and the Atlanta Hawks are the three frontrunners for Johnson’s services, according to colleague Michael Scotto. So let’s break down Johnson’s fit with these three East playoff teams.
Johnson may want to chase a ring in Cleveland, but the Cavs may not really need him that much. They’re already in the league’s top 10 in made threes and 3-point field goal percentage and just acquired premium 3-point marksman Channing Frye at the trade deadline.
With James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love attracting all sorts of defensive attention, Cleveland is likely to go after quality catch-and-shoot players. But do the Cavs really need another catch-and-shoot player? Here are their overall percentages in this department, according to NBA.com.
|Cavs Catch & Shoot||FG %||League Rank|
Cleveland seems fine from three, but they can use someone to hit those mid-range two-point shots if the Cavs are going to get those open looks from there. The problem is, Johnson hasn’t been a good catch-and-shoot player this year. He’s hit just 39 percent of those types of shots, per NBA.com, which is 70th among 82 NBA guards with at least 40 catch-and-shoot makes this season. His ranking for threes is even lower.
If the Cavs only want a shooter, they can probably do better than Johnson. In fact, they already have with the acquisition of Frye.
Now here’s a team that can use Joe Johnson. Miami is 28th in the league in points per game and 26th in offensive efficiency and its leading scorer, Chris Bosh, may not play again this season after more blood clots were found in his left leg.
Johnson could slide in and start at small forward with Wade and Goran Dragic in the backcourt with Luol Deng sliding to the power forward slot next to center Hassan Whiteside. Deng is averaging over 21 points and 12 boards in the four games since the All-Star break and Johnson would provide the team with some desperately needed 3-point shooting. No team has a worse percentage from three than Miami.
|Heat From 3||Number||League Rank|
|3-point FG %||32.1||30|
Miami doesn’t attempt many threes nor make many threes. Fewer players have been hotter shooters than Johnson over the second half of this season. The Heat can plug him right into their starting lineup and give them the offensive boost they need to preserve their current lead in the Southeast Division.
It would definitely be a great story if Johnson returned to the team where he starred for seven years, earning All-Star selections in six of those seasons. Atlanta has also lost five of its last six and 10 of its last 14 games. The Hawks reportedly even considered breaking up their core prior to the trade deadline but decided to keep the band together.
After finishing second in 3-point field goal percentage last season, Atlanta is down to 18th this year. Kyle Korver’s numbers from three are way down this year, but he’s shooting 47.7 percent from distance in February after an absolutely horrific December and a relatively average January. Korver and teammate Kent Bazemore would likely remain in the starting lineup, but Atlanta— along with Cleveland and Miami— could use the improved bench scoring Johnson would provide.
|Bench Woes (League Rank)||Pts||FG %||3 FG %||Plus-Minus|
|Atlanta||33.9 (20)||45 (5)||31 (27)||1.6 (3)|
|Miami||26.6 (30)||43.4 (19)||29.4 (29)||0.7 (8)|
|Cleveland||27.1 (28)||44.1 (13)||36.9 (5)||1.1 (6)|
Atlanta’s bench actually outscores its opponents at an elite rate, but Johnson would really boost its scoring and 3-point shooting and make the Hawks even more of a force in the postseason.
Johnson would surely help the Cavs’ bench scoring output, but Cleveland is already good from a shooting standpoint. Miami just needs more scoring, period. Johnson would seemingly help out the Heat the most out of any of these teams, but he would be a big boost to any of these East playoff teams.
Shlomo Sprung is a national columnist for SheridanHoops who focuses on analytics, profiles and features. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. Follow him on Twitter.