NBA, The NBA's 30 Best Go-To Players / Oct 13, 2009 / 3:54 pm

The NBA’s 30 best go-to players (#12: Joe Johnson)

(photo. Zach Wolfe)

(photo. Zach Wolfe)

Who do you want your offense to run through with everything on the line? Counting down 30th to 1st (one per team), I’ve ranked the League’s go-to guys…

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#12: JOE JOHNSON, Atlanta Hawks

At this point, it’s getting old to continue calling Joe Johnson underrated. Old, and, you would think, unnecessary. But as it turns out, J.J. still has more doubters than just about any franchise player in the NBA.

Take the name out of the equation and evaluate the resume: Four straight seasons averaging about 21 points, four rebounds and five assists; three straight All-Star nods; the clear leader and top player on a Top-4 playoff seed in ’09, who led that young group to the conference semifinals one year after giving the eventual NBA champions all they could handle in a seven-game series. On paper, the man has done as much or more in Atlanta than Brandon Roy has in Portland, than Chris Paul in New Orleans, than T-Mac in Houston, than Chris Bosh in Toronto, than Gilbert Arenas in Washington. In the ’09 playoffs he took down D-Wade, who was arguably the best player in the NBA last season. Give that same list of accomplishments to one of the League’s golden children, and you’d have to fight for room on his sack. And yet Joe Johnson is regularly considered more of a paper tiger than a potent killer.

Johnson is as talented and as tough of a matchup as just about any guard in the world. He can play three positions, and guard up to four positions. Standing every bit his listed 6-7, 240 pounds, he combines a reliable jumper with a strong off-the-dribble game, the passing ability of a point guard, and solid defensive skills.

In crunch-time, three stats tell the story: Last season Johnson was the League’s 8th best fourth-quarter scorer (6.2 points); among the NBA’s top 15 scorers overall, only four averaged fewer turnovers than Johnson (2.5); and in “clutch time” he hit 91% of his free throws, third among the League’s top 20 clutch time scorers and better than respected ice-veined closers like Dirk, Ginobili and Pierce. In short, Johnson produces in the game’s most important moments while also protecting the ball, and he’s the guy you want at the line when it’s time to stop an opponent’s rally.

Problem is, Joe and the Hawks seem to have hit their ceiling. After clearing the first-round playoff hurdle, they got smoked by the Cavs in last year’s conference semifinals, and it seems unlikely Atlanta would really put a scare into the East’s top-tier of Cleveland, Orlando and Boston next spring.

Similar to Bosh, we’ll learn more about Johnson’s status as a true go-to guy next summer, when he hits the free agent market. The last time J.J. was a free agent, he chose to be the franchise player for a (then) lowly Atlanta squad rather than a role player on a contending Phoenix squad. This time around, fully in his prime as a player, he’ll face a similar choice; stay in Atlanta or go to another team where he’d be The Man, or settle into a #2 or #3 role.

A player who has go-to tendencies in his blood, however, is wired to choose Option A. That’s what happened with Allen Iverson this summer, a lifelong #1 option who had to face his future as a role player. The same mentality that made A.I. great also limited his options in free agency. Now, take another elite player who hasn’t been a go-to guy his whole life, somebody like Ginobili. When he’s near the end of his career and looking for a team, he won’t have a problem getting work because he’s proven he can be a role player and isn’t wired to desire to be The Man. So which one is Joe Johnson: an Iverson or a Ginobili?

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13. Danny Granger
14. Steve Nash
15. Kevin Durant
16. Gilbert Arenas
17. Derrick Rose
18. Chris Bosh
19. Andre Iguodala
20. Tracy McGrady
21. Baron Davis
22. Michael Redd
23. Devin Harris
24. Kevin Martin
25. Al Jefferson
26. O.J. Mayo
27. Stephen Jackson
28. Nate Robinson
29. Boris Diaw
30. Rip Hamilton

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  • http://www.swagbucks.com/refer/ProphetGK ProphetGK

    Unfortunatly, JJ although one of my fav players, is the #2 man in my books, love to see him paired with LBJ…

  • Dagomar

    A) Joe did not “take down” Wade. His team was better than Wade’s and narrowly squeaked by the Heat despite having far more talent. How did the Hawks perform against the Cavs, by the way?

    B) This article articulates exactly why Joe Johnson isn’t more respected. He’s good at a lot of different things (if somewhat less than this article suggests), but he isn’t really great at many things. In addition, he doesn’t really dominate games or playoff series like a Lebron, a Kobe, even a Roy.

    All the same, good ranking.

  • Bizz

    I can see what Joe Johnson has done that’s considered more than Arenas, Bosh, and T-Mac…but in fairness to Brandon Roy, who’s only been in the league like 3 years, and considering the go-to guy list hasn’t even listed him yet, this suggests we believe JJ is not better than Brandon Roy, so throw the accomplishments out the window. On top of that, I think in the amount of years Chris Paul and Deron Williams have been in the league, they’ve both accomplished more than Joe Johnson. Chris Paul is an elite NBA name, Deron Williams is on the cusp of being one…Joe Johnson will never reach that plateau. If we’re going to go with how far in the playoffs they’ve gone, Joe has never taken Atlanta past round 2, CP3 has already done that (in a tougher conference) and Deron has already reached the conference finals. If we’re going with all-star selections, Deron’s been robbed numerous times, and he and CP3 have been in the league like 4-5 years less, so their all-star nods will come. If anything, Joe Johnson is on the verge of going from underrated to overrated, especially after the choke job he pulled in the playoffs last season. It definitely wasn’t him that was the reason they beat Miami…every time I turned the channel, Josh Smith was flying down the court for a breakaway dunk and the entire team focused their defence on Flash. He had like 2 good games that series out of 7, and in the Cavs series, he disappeared altogether. JJ has the #’s…but I don’t even think he even warrants higher go to status than Steve Nash.

  • nowwhatyo

    Hey Austin, i figured you’d be the most interested in seeing this… Can DIME give some shine to this film? It deserves to be seen!


  • Ian

    but what if dime has greg oden in the list instead of roy?? (u know im messin right?)

    you cant use that logic of how did he do vs cleveland isnt lebron goin to be higher than howard?? and how did he do vs orlango

  • flegman
  • Dagomar

    Ian: the idea was that you can’t use Joe Johnson’s playoff performance last year to argue for his greatness. He didn’t will his team past Wade’s Heat, and he didn’t make his team more competitive against the Cavs. My point had nothing to do with Wade or Lebron being better than JJ, which is obvious.

  • Ian

    personally i still think nash is a better go to guy than everyone on the list so far.

  • chriscross

    “and guard up to four positions.”
    ok who are the power forwards can he guard? I can guard 5 postions, just not very well. ya’ll can make anyone sound like they should be all nba, or depending on your mood, make them out to be chumps.

  • J.Hicks

    I would let Johnson guard A.Randolph, Diaw, Tyrus, H.Warrick, Harrington, Rashard, J.Green … any PF who’s kind of skinny or not that tall.

  • Diego

    JJ is Atlanta’s top dog. Yes, he did play poorly in last year’s playoffs, but that was not representative of what he usually brings to the table. (Remember the year before vs. Boston where he was UNSTOPPABLE in several 4th quarters? Dime, roll that clip again of that Celtic falling on all fours on the floor after Joe juked him prior to a long, nothing-but-net jumper. I think it was their “stopper” signed by N.O. the next year.)

    JJ has a great shooting touch, and a driving floater which is almost automatic. He plays shooting guard, but this year I think we will see Woodson put him at small forward a bit (which he has done this preseason). Size-wise, JJ could guard some power forwards (his size is indeed legit–I stood next to him and Artest prior to a game last year and they BOTH were huge), but I’ve never seen him called upon to do it.

    Hopefully, JJ stays with the Hawks, whom themselves remain underestimated. JJ unfortunately is still underrated by some fans who have never seen him play much in recent years.

  • doc

    I aint mad at this.

  • TJ

    you cant use that logic of how did he do vs cleveland isnt lebron goin to be higher than howard?? and how did he do vs orlango”

    You’re an idiot Ian. JJ played like shit (15 ppg) and they lost, at least partially because he didn’t show up.

    Lebron dropped 44 ppg, 8 rpg, and 8 apg (REAL numbers, not me approximating) and they lost. In no way is that the same thing.

  • gregory

    He’s not an franchise player. He’s a good, solid all-around player who isn’t elite in any category. He’s given credit for being the best player on a 47 win team but he’s more like 1A and Bibby, Smith and Horford are 1B, 1C and 1D than Johnson being the clear cut stud. The thing is, when he’s missed games the past two seasons, the Hawks have actually been good. They haven’t skipped a beat. It was only a few games but they didn’t fall apart because Johnson isn’t the force that makes their team hum. Before Bibby was traded there, Atlanta was not going to make the playoffs and face Boston. That doesn’t mean Bibby is their most indispensable player but it does mean that Johnson shouldn’t get most of the praise for Atlanta’s one year success.

    His playoff performance is so overrated. His ratio of good to bad games with Atlanta is something like 5:11. He was not good in any of the four playoff games at Boston and only great in one at Atlanta and pretty good in the other home games. He sucked throughout the Cleveland series. And he was having a horrible series before game 7 at Miami. He’s not underrated, or not rated accurately. For all the accolades he gets, people saying he’s a three-time all star whenever they mention his name, how he’s a devastating playoff force, the leader of no.4 seed, he’s completely overrated.

    For him to be a truly elite player, he has to get to the line much, much more than he does.