After Deron William’s departure to the Dallas Mavericks the Brooklyn Nets intend to retain Joe Johnson and his nearly $25 million contract until it expires at the season’s end.
While he may stay with the team Nets, play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle, affiliated with YES network, believes his role could change. “I wouldn’t be shocked if he came off the bench this year. That would not shock me in the least bit,” Ian Eagle said.
Transitioning into a reserve role could present Johnson and the team with multiple benefits. The move would allow Johnson – ball-dominant by nature – to anchor the second unit and give the bench squad a proven scorer.
In 35 minutes per game last season Johnson averaged 14.4 points per game and for his career he averages 17.3 points per game. Such a scoring spark off the bench would benefit a team with unproven bench commodities and would keep production more consistent when starters rest.
Removing Johnson from the starting lineup not only improves the reserve mob, but also the starting group. Excluding Johnson would likely result in a starting line-up of Jarrett Jack, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez.
The aforementioned lineup favors Lopez’s post-up game which carried the offense late in the season. Since Johnson prefers handling the ball when he plays pairing him with Lopez induces a stagnant offense of either isolation’s or post-ups.
Although both are effective and should be used throughout the season the times they are run must stagger. With both Johnson and Lopez on the floor staggering ruins their respective, principal offensive weapon.
Lopez complementing a Johnson isolation or vice-versa is not in the respective player’s repertoire. Johnson’s an average three-point shooter, but doesn’t space the floor well, compressing the room for Lopez to operate in the post. When Johnson drives Lopez and more problematic, his defender squeeze lanes Johnson can operate in the paint and room for him to finish.
Moving Johnson to the bench would clear space for Lopez in the post and give Johnson playing time when an imposing center doesn’t crash on him near the rim.
Another offensive favorite of Johnson’s is to post-up. With Lopez on the floor any possibility of this is eliminated because of proximity to one another in the paint. Should Johnson embrace a bench role he would enjoy more opportunities to post-up smaller players and space to do so.
Throughout the offseason the Nets shifted to a younger and more athletic team. Replacing Johnson among the starters with rookie Hollis-Jefferson facilitates this trend within the starting line-up. On offense Johnson clearly bests a limited Hollis-Jefferson who is athletic and can drive as a result, but lacks shooting touch and ability to space the floor. Where Hollis-Jefferson helps the team is on the defensive end.
As a defender Hollis-Jefferson is faster, quicker laterally and more active with his hands. He would frustrate opposing wings and be one of the team’s best defenders alongside Thaddeus Young. Defensively, the team lacks rim-protection increasing the importance of solid perimeter defending and value of Hollis-Jefferson.
Running in transition the athleticism of Hollis-Jefferson will help the team score easily and prevent the opposition from doing the same on the opposite end.
Implementing Markel Brown to the starting lineup and bumping Bojan Bogdanovic to small forward would be another way to incorporate more youth and athleticism in the team, but the Nets don’t seem likely to give Brown the chance. If he starts he would be another player to initiate the offense and handle the ball.
Brown’s skill set and scoring ability is less than that of Johnson, but he requires less of the ball, which would help the offense move fluidly.
Playing with the second unit would ease the defensive burden for Johnson. At age 34, logging almost 40,000 minutes in his career, he dislikes defending the post. For the position he plays few players function in the post, especially among reserves with limitations to their game.
Although Johnson may not and should not start games he should finish them. To end games, a team needs it’s best player’s on the floor, despite the troubles he creates offensively. In clutch circumstances Johnson performed and won the team games. Including him at the end of the game presents the defense with another scorer to contain, which could be the difference in late game situations.
Entering his 15th season age may be a reasonable a factor as any for Johnson to lead the bench. In 1,062 career games he’s started 992. Increasing that number won’t be the best decision for the Nets next season.