Which NBA Playoff Contender Needs Joe Johnson the Most?
Seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson has been waived by the Brooklyn Nets, and there are already several playoff contenders in pursuit of his services:
Sources tell ESPN several playoff teams (Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Houston, Miami, OKC and Toronto) are already in pursuit of Joe Johnson
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 25, 2016
At age 34, Johnson is definitely past his prime. His numbers have fallen off in each of the four years that have passed since he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets by the Atlanta Hawks.
He's averaging 11.8 points per game this season, his lowest mark since his breakout campaign in 2003-04 with the Phoenix Suns. He's tossing in 3.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, but his 47.6% Effective Field Goal Percentage (weighted twos and threes) represents a 12-year low.
His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 11.0 and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes rate of .027 are both the worst of his career. In terms of our in-house efficiency metric, nERD -- a number that estimates how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would finish an 82-game season with the player in question as one of its starters -- he is currently registering a -8.3, which is the fifth-worst mark in the entire Association this season.
That's not to say that Joe Johnson couldn't help a contending team. He can still create shots for himself (and others) quite effectively. He has had a reputation as a ball-stopper for most of his career (hence the nickname "ISO Joe"), but this year, only 14.3% of his possessions are of the isolation variety. That still puts him in the top-20 in terms of frequency and his 0.80 points scored per possession (PPP) only places him in the 47th percentile in efficiency, but those numbers are pretty much on par with All-Star Paul George (14.8% of his possessions are isolations at 0.83 PPP for 52nd percentile).
Meanwhile, Johnson has become one of the league's best spot-up shooters. 23.6% of his shots are spot-ups, and the 1.08 PPP that he scores on those plays places him in the 80th percentile. This year, that puts him right alongside Kyle Korver (22.3% of his possessions are spot-ups at 1.09 PPP for the 82nd percentile).
If Johnson joins a contender, one has to assume that he wouldn't shoulder anywhere close to the same burden he does in Brooklyn, where he's currently playing 33.9 minutes per game and registering a 17.9% Usage Rate.
The question is which team of the ones listed above has the biggest hole at the wing and could most desperately use a good spot-up shooter?
Here is a table outlining each team's wing rotation (top-four in minutes), including each player's nERD and PPP mark on spot-ups.
|Team||Top-4 Wings (MPG)||nERD||Spot-Up PPP|
Joe Johnson has the worst nERD of any wing listed so far in this article at -8.3, so it's hard to see him as an improvement for any of the teams listed above, at least by our metric. That said, the teams that are most in need of help in their wing rotation are the Houston Rockets, Miami Heat, and Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Rockets could give Corey Brewer's (nERD of -4.7) or Marcus Thornton's (-1.5) minutes to Johnson and potentially be better off for it. The Heat could stand to play Gerald Green (-4.2 nERD) less, and Dwyane Wade's spotty availability could be partially remedied by having Joe on the roster. Oklahoma City has a host of wings in the "meh" range, so taking some minutes from Dion Waiters (-5.1 nERD), Andre Roberson (0.6), or newly acquired Randy Foye (-6.3) could work in their favor.
As a caveat, the Toronto Raptors might need a guy like Joe Johnson if DeMarre Carroll can't come back at full strength from knee surgery. Even if Carroll does come back and can contribute at his usual level, Johnson would be an improvement over James Johnson, at least on the offensive end. Raptors coach Dwane Casey doesn't seem to be a big fan of James Johnson's anyway, giving him several DNP-CDs this year and only allowing him to average 15.7 minutes per contest on a team that is depleted at both his small forward and power forward positions.
As for teams that could use the spot-up shooting, Miami and Oklahoma City have the weakest wing units on spot-ups. The Heat average 0.93 PPP on spot-ups among their top four wings, while the Thunder average 0.91 among theirs.
So, the team that could use Joe Johnson the most out of those listed by ESPN's Marc Stein as being interested would be the Miami Heat -- at least according to our two areas of focus. Their four most-used wing players have the lowest average nERD when compared to the other teams at -1.8. Of that group of teams, their wing quartet also has the second-lowest level of efficiency on spot-ups (a growing strength of Johnson's) with a rate of 0.93 PPP.
Throw in Wade's shaky health, Justise Winslow's inexperience, and Gerald Green's general ineffectiveness, and the Heat could really use some support at their shooting guard and small forward positions. With Chris Bosh potentially out for the last couple months of the season for the second consecutive year, the current 4 seed in the Eastern Conference could probably use all the help they could get anyway.
It the meantime, it appears that the Cleveland Cavaliers are the frontrunners to land Johnson after he clears waivers at 5:00 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. Their current foursome of wing players has the highest average nERD (3.8) and PPP on spot-ups (1.05) of all the teams above.
Per the numbers that we looked at, this move by the top-seeded Cavs over all the other aforementioned teams would just be the rich getting richer. Still, it's likely that the Cavs would have no trouble giving a chunk of either Iman Shumpert's or Richard Jefferson's minutes to Johnson. With a title-or-bust mentality in Cleveland, it's certainly worth it for them to take a flier on a former seven-time All-Star.