Something unusual happened near the end of the game the other night at Oklahoma City. J.J. took some contact on a turnover but didn’t get a call and on the next play Kevin Durant got a call when J.J. went for a steal. The sequence wasn’t unusual–Durant gets to the line a lot and J.J. doesn’t. The rare part of it was Johnson’s reaction: he punched his fist in the air and complained to officials.
I’ve only been around a month, but I’m told that might be the most anger Johnson has expressed about a call all season. He was visibly miffed about a call the next night against the Clippers, too. J.J. took eight free throws against the Thunder and 10 against the Clippers, the most attempts he’s had in a two-game span this season. Some Hawks folks think that’s no coincidence.
They wish J.J. would express his displeasure to officials more. They think he doesn’t get the calls other star players get because he doesn’t demand respect from officials. They wouldn’t even mind if J.J. was hit with a technical from time to time.
But J.J. says it’s just not his style. Plus, he thinks it’s useless.
“I don’t feel like I get the calls (other good players get),” he said. “But I feel like there is no no need to complain because I don’t think it does any good. It don’t get you better calls. So I gave up. And if they make a bad call, they can’t take it back, so what’s the difference?”
I’ve got to say that’s probably the first time I’ve heard that approach to calls from anyone associated with the league. Back in 2007, I did a story about so-called “star” or “respect” calls because everyone was complaining about Dwyane Wade getting too many of them. The story can be summed up as:
1. Yes, there is such a thing as star calls though it doesn’t happen as much as some perceive.
2. You have to earn them with an aggressive style of play.
3. Everyone just kind of accepts them because they are a part of the NBA’s culture.
Some select quotes from that story:
“It’s 100 percent real,” Richard Jefferson said. “It’s an unspoken thing.”
“As far as close calls, if you have more star power, you probably get that call,” Jason Richardson said.
“That hasn’t changed,” said Byron Scott. “That is something that has been around way, way before I came in this league. I don’t think anybody in this league looks at it and says that’s wrong. That’s just how it has been.”
“Star players have the ball much of the time, particularly at critical times,” said NBA officials honcho Ronnie Nunn. “They are star players because they are adept at what they do. They certainly don’t need the help of any officials.They summon the whistle of an official because they are capable of separating themselves from other players. It’s about abilities and unique strengths on getting fouls called.”
That brings us back to J.J., whose free-throw attempts per game have decreased from 4.6 last season to 3.6 this season. His shot attempts per game have actually gone up by 0.5. His minutes are down 5 percent from last season but his free-throw attempts are down 22 percent. What’s up with that?
It doesn’t seem J.J. has changed his style of play. According to game-tracking statistics at 82games.com, 20 percent of Johnson’s shot are what it considers to be “inside” and 80 percent are jumpers. He finished last season at the exact same ratio.
Compare that to the guards who shoot at least one more free throw per game than Johnson (listed in descending order of free-throw attempts per game):
Dwyane Wade (34 percent shot attempts inside)
Kevin Martin (21 percent)
Chauncey Billups (23 percent)
Kobe Bryant (23 percent)
Brandon Roy (24 percent)
Tyreke Evans (53 percent)
Gilbert Arenas (21 percent)
Devin Harris (35 percent)
Rodney Stuckey (39 percent)
Deron Williams (26 percent)
Russell Westbrook (38 percent)
Eric Gordon (37 percent)
Tony Parker (40 percent)
Rip Hamilton (11 percent)
Chris Paul (20 percent)
Andre Miller (35 percent)
Ben Gordon (15 percent)
Allen Iverson (21 percent)
Baron Davis (35 percent)
You can see that by 82games.com’s count, 16 of these 19 players attempt more inside shots than Johnson. But only Wade, Evans, Harris, Stuckey, Westbrook, Gordon, Parker, Miller, and Davis do so at a dramatically higher rate that might explain how they take so many more free throws than J.J. And only Wade and Bryant take more shots per game overall than J.J.’s 18.5.
So does all that mean J.J. doesn’t get the calls he deserves and, if so, would he get more love if he harped at officials more? Does he just need to go to the rim more often? Does he need to get better at drawing and/or selling contact? Is it all of these things, none of them or something else?
– Over at Peachtree Hoops, hawksdawg boldly steps into a minefield by suggesting that racism may play a part in the Hawks not catching on the way they should in the city. I’m too new to have my own take on that (though I can say from experience this isn’t the only NBA city where that conversation takes place) but Ps to hawksdawg for having the kind of set it takes to put it out there.
– A television crew from Rustavi 2 in Georgia (the country) is in town to do a lifestyle story on Zaza. He says it’s the most popular channel there. The piece is for a show called “P.S.”, which airs every Saturday night.
From the Web site: “Though the program has its staunch audience, the last public opinion poll showed that it is necessary to make it more attractive for the young Georgian viewers.” So Zaza must be big with the kids back home, too.
– Super commenter northcyde has called on me to come up with a nickname for the “lethal combination” of Joe and Jamal. So far I can’t get past anything that involves the use of the initials “J.J.” and that keeps bringing me back to some play on J.J. Fad or J.J. Evans. Sorry, that’s all I’ve got right now.
– Talk amongst yourselves, Hawks fans.