Esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore reports that the Atlanta Hawks have interest in signing Joe Johnson, should he agree to be bought out by the Brooklyn Nets. I have to admit: I’m stunned.
I’m sorry. That’s an understatement. I’m beyond stunned.
On what planet would the notion of cramming Iso-Joe into Pace-and-Space be a good idea? Bizarro World?
Don’t misunderstand. I agree that the Hawks need help. I liked — note past tense — Joe Johnson as a player. But if you were naming the three big NBA names who’d least fit what the Hawks have become, he’d be on the podium.
Even in this lesser season, the Hawks have passed the ball. (Second in the league in assists, behind Golden State, naturally.) Johnson stops the ball. He pounds the ball. What made him good here was his ability to duck his shoulder and back his defender down. His usage rate in those days was in the mid-20s. Among current Hawks, only Dennis Schroder and Jeff Teague have usage rates higher than 23.2, and there’s a reason for that: They’re point guards.
Johnson was an off-guard who played like a point guard. He and Mike Bibby made a weird but effective tandem. Bibby was content to station himself in the corner while Joe went Iso, which happened a lot, and Joe was smart enough to find Bibby. (I’d wager that at least 60 percent of Bibby’s 3-pointers a Hawk came off Johnson feeds.)
In sum, Bibby let Johnson do what a lead guard usually does, and Mike Woodson was happy to let it happen because the team was finally winning. But there’s no way Johnson could join this team with the expectation of doing what he once did. On this team, nobody stops the ball.
Correction: Sometimes Schroder does, and that’s significant, too. Were Johnson to come here, it would surely be as a reserve. (A team can’t change its starting five so late in the season and hope for anything good.) That makes sense, sort of, in that the Hawks’ second unit has essentially become a Schroder solo act. It makes no sense when you consider that Schroder and Johnson, two volume dribblers, would be expected to share one basketball.
One of the reasons the Warriors were tickled to land Anderson Varejao after his Cleveland buyout was that they felt their second unit had stopped sharing the ball. (Anyone who saw Marreese Speights hoist four shots and make two turnovers in eight minutes here Monday won’t be surprised by that sentiment.) It would be wrong to describe Johnson as a ball hog — he will pass it, and sometimes very well — but he is what he is: He’s more a scorer than a pure shooter, and scorers take lots of shots. (And, at 34, he has made only 40.6 percent of those shots this season.)
It’s uncanny that the management team of Mike Budenholzer and Wes Wilcox would be considering this, uncanny in the sense that it would be a reversal of the greatest managerial move made by the Hawks this century. Danny Ferry’s ability to get the Nets to take Johnson and his massive contract was a point of departure and a new beginning. I realize the post-Ferry Hawks would be buying Johnson back at pennies on the dollar, but still: The Hawks went from pretty good to really good after shedding Iso-Joe. That wasn’t a coincidence.
I cannot believe that has been lost on those left in charge after Ferry. Then again, I obviously have no idea just what, if anything, Budenholzer and Wilcox are thinking.
Further Hawks reading: