Joe Johnson appears to be buying into Hawks’ new offense

Joe Johnson is coming off a season-high 36 points going into tonight's game at Miami. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Joe Johnson is coming off season-high 36 points going into Miami game. (Curtis Compton)

Whether it’s because of his contract, too many poor playoff performances or those regrettable seconds last May when he indicated Hawks fans weren’t real high on his priority list, Joe Johnson might be the least popular star athlete in Atlanta.

But Johnson’s also the Hawks’ best hope for significant postseason success, which is why his seemingly buying into Larry Drew’s it’s-not-all-about-Joe offense is a positive sign.

I understand the doubts about the Hawks and Johnson. Management overpaid to keep him and painted the team into a corner for several years because no other team is going to be willing to absorb a $20 million-a-year contract. Further, to this point in his career, Johnson has proven to be an All-Star but not a super star — and there’s a difference.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t work, and there are some positive early signs. Drew is convinced Johnson has been worn down late in regular seasons and in the playoffs from playing too many 45-plus minute games. When Drew took over for Mike Woodson, his first decision was to change the offense, increasing ball distribution to take the focus off Johnson.

Many believed it wouldn’t work. The thinking was, Johnson’s ego would be an obstacle. That hasn’t been the case. Maybe it isn’t fair to fully judge the offense yet because Johnson is still not at 100 percent since coming back from elbow surgery (though his 36 points Monday against Sacramento showed he’s close). But any problems the Hawks have had this season have been based more on an inconsistent defensive effort than a predictable offense.

“LD has done a great job putting in an offense that keeps everybody spaced to the point where you really can’t double[-team] anybody,” Johnson said. “It’s a constant movement to where guys are getting wide open shots.

Do you believe a new offense will make Joe Johnson and Hawks better in the playoffs?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

“I haven’t been playing a lot of 45, 48-minute games. That’s been great. Later on in April, May and June, I’ll be ready.”

When asked about skeptics who believed he would be resistant to a change that would reduce his role, Johnson laughed.

“It didn’t really bother me,” he said. “I come from Phoenix, and six years ago I didn’t have the ball as much. We all played off Steve Nash. This was just something I had to get back and adjust to. It wasn’t a problem for me. This is LD’s team. We all have to bow to his system.”

Drew believes Johnson became “an easy target” in Woodson’s iso-Joe offense.

“I thought he would buy in simply because it would take some of the wear and tear off of him,” he said. “When you go night in and night out playing isolation basketball and you turn your back and you’re being pounded, sooner or later it’s going to take its toll.”

Drew said that fatigue is exposed more in the playoffs when games slow down and opponents could focus on Johnson in the half court.

Apparently, it was the NBA’s worst-kept secret.

Jamal Crawford said when he played for other teams, “The scouting report on Joe would be that he’s worn down” late in the season.

As for the perception that Johnson wouldn’t share the ball, Crawford said: “Joe’s always been a willing passer. All of those years he averaged 20-plus points, he was getting five-plus assists, too. He was unfairly criticized for that.”

After the Sacramento game, Johnson said he’s “still not getting full extension” with his right arm but he’s close to full strength. He hit seven of 10 shots in the second quarter and 16 of 27 in the game.

I know. They’re impressive numbers in January but you’re waiting for April and May. It’s justified skepticism. But early signs are positive.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

67 comments Add your comment

Mr. Phil

January 18th, 2011
1:49 pm

Cp8

January 18th, 2011
1:55 pm

In theory, rotating the ball to get the easy, open look should afford the Hawks more energy to play D.

Jamaaliver

January 18th, 2011
2:07 pm

Joe takes alot of flack considering he’s been the best player and (for the most part) an able ambassador for the team. h spoke out of frustration last year in the playoffs, but before and after that, he’s never really done anything to gain that much ire from the fans.

Is he overpaid, yes. But that much is the fault of the GM and Owners. He’s big, strong, consistent and seems very coachable.

And we saw just how average our team is without him out there. We had a 4-3 record during his absence, but there was some ugly basketball being played.

That said, we’re still just an average team. I wouldn’t mind blowing it all up and building around Joe and Al for the next few years to see if we could garner a better supporting cast for them.

PS-Joe’s just entering his prime. So sit back and enjoy.

jp

January 18th, 2011
2:08 pm

I really hope this ownership is not that dumb as they have seemed for the past few years and resigns Jamal Crawford. The guy is the best bench player in the NBA and he keeps the offense going when the starters are resting. He is well worth $10 million per year. It would be the dumbest move in years(not drafting chris paul) if this team can’t resign Jamal.

KBP

January 18th, 2011
2:09 pm

Gotta get Marvin healthy and involved. No shot at significant playoff run without Marvin. If he can regain his 2008 form, this team would be difficult to deal with. Gotta get Teague consistent minutes. Jamal does not need to be the back up point guard. He is more than capable but not best use of his skills.

GovClintonTyree

January 18th, 2011
2:14 pm

I’ve always liked Joe and his game, and am glad Drew’s new motion offense seems to take some of the load off him. And with Bibby, Crawford and Evans, there’s really no reason for him to play 40 mpg. As for passing, he’s always averaged 5 dimes or better. Anybody who’s that complete of an offensive player is going to draw the D. Maybe Drew’s offense actually makes him better, too (statwise).

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Atlanta Daily and Enrique James. Enrique James said: RT @JeffSchultzAJC: Joe Johnson appears to be buying into Hawks’ new offense http://bit.ly/eGT0fC [...]

SDP

January 18th, 2011
2:24 pm

JJ’s offense has steadily improved starting on the west coast trip. I would like to see the Hawks add a big man to the roster. All the fans are asking is for the Hawks to at least win a game in the 2nd round of the playoffs. The Miami game will be a great measuring stick to see if the team can remain focused enough to execute LD’s offense and defense sets.

NCBravesFan

January 18th, 2011
2:35 pm

I agree having a more balanced offensive attack helps the Hawks and Joe, but I don’t think it changes the playoff results a whole lot. They need more players, and a different roster construction.

Joey

January 18th, 2011
2:43 pm

Hawks can go further in the playoffs if they will play defense like they played in Utah last week.

SleeplessinAtlanta

January 18th, 2011
3:22 pm

The Hawks simply cannot be the number 5 seed if Orlando is the 4. Facing them in rd 1 is a early ticket to the offseason.

SleeplessinAtlanta

January 18th, 2011
3:22 pm

Please get us a point guard before the deadline somehow. Can we fit one in the cap? Are there loopholes in the cap space rules?

Elite Vince

January 18th, 2011
3:27 pm

I like what Larry Drew has done with different line up starting and situational. One line up i would like to see is the hot guys on the floor and the best defensive also. Joe Johnson,and Jamal Crawford for offense. Josh Smith, Al Horford, and a third guy playing center. We would have two great ISO guys that could create there own shots and three bigs that can guard the rim.

Art Vandelay

January 18th, 2011
3:44 pm

Joe stays out of trouble, respects his coaches, and other than a single defensive, emotion-driven comment made in the wake of an embarrassing playoff loss, he’s been a fantastic ambassador for the city. Overpaid? Probably, but not egregiously. Don’t blame him for the fact that the market dictated that ASG had to pay more than fair market value in order to keep him. Who among us would have turned that down?

wxwax

January 18th, 2011
3:44 pm

I voted “no” not because of the offense, but because the defense and team will still seem to be lacking.

The offense is great.

But you still have to want to stop the other guys and show some character.

Jo Bling

January 18th, 2011
3:52 pm

I don’t want to be the party pooper here, but did anybody actually see the game yesterday? I know Jeff Schultz didn’t, or else he wouldn’t have written this column. It’s pretty clear to me what Schultz did, though. He looked at the box score, saw Joe’s impressive numbers and thought to himself, “I think I’ll write a column about how the new motion offense is really working out well for Joe Johnson.”

If he had actually seen the game (I was there, in my usual seat) he would have seen a lot of things, but none of them resembled a motion offense. In fact, of Joe’s 36 points, I would wager 30 of them came off of the same old iso-Joe formation we’ve seen for years – pass it to Joe, everybody else stands around and watches. If you actually watch the offense, you’ll notice that there isn’t a whole lot that has changed from last year – and it was especially apparent against the Kings yesterday. That’s why this column struck me as such a laugher. Watch the game before you develop a thesis.

Jeff Schultz

January 18th, 2011
4:02 pm

Jamaaliver — To “blow it up and build around Joe and Al” obviously means you’re trading Josh. You’re going to find a lot of division on that.

Jeff Schultz

January 18th, 2011
4:03 pm

JP– Rick Sund doesn’t do things quickly. My guess is he lets the Jamal thing play out over the season, waits to see how the playoffs go and then make the decision. But I’m with you on liking Jamal.

i_am_soulstar

January 18th, 2011
4:05 pm

The actually moved around alot yesterday, although it eventually ened back in Joe’s hands. There were a few instances in the end where it was iso-Joe, but I believe the difference is that the Hawks are now using isolation play effectively and when someone has a hot hand, rather than that isolation play dominating their rhythm on the offensive end.

Jeff Schultz

January 18th, 2011
4:06 pm

Jo Bling –I was at the game yesterday. Joe took on a bigger responsibility yesterday than they’d like because the rest of the team was playing so poorly.
So I guess you must feel pretty stupid now, huh?

Rev in Tampa

January 18th, 2011
4:23 pm

Jeff,

Do you have any thoughts or insight into why Coach Drew would not play Teague when Bibby and Jamal could not keep Beno Udrih and Tyreke Evans out of the paint. As proof of how poor their defense was yesterday, I point to Al Horford’s seven blocks. It is easy for him to get a high block total when Sacramento’s pg’s were living in there every possession. It makes no sense to me that Teague gets a DNP when perimeter defense is such an issue.

Jeff Schultz

January 18th, 2011
4:25 pm

I_am_soulstar: Thanks. You think maybe it was Jo Bling who actually wasn’t at the game?

I LOVE MY HAWKS NO MATTER WHAT THE HATERS SAY

January 18th, 2011
4:30 pm

I don’t understand y you say Joe is the most dislike star in Atl. I would have to say after that awful showing at the dome on Saturday night I can think of 52 other players I dislike right about now. Eric Weems is the only one who is not on my list.

Jeff Schultz

January 18th, 2011
4:30 pm

No. I know he put Wilkins in once to guard Evans and Evans blew past him. I know Teague’s playing time was cut earlier because of his shooting. I’m guessing LD isn’t a huge fan of his defense yet either but honestly I haven’t talked to him about it.

Mark

January 18th, 2011
4:49 pm

1) The Defense revolves around the energy and effort Josh puts in, and that is spotty. Had the eye of the tiger against Utah from the get-go, but he needs it ALL the time.
2) Hawks desperately need a speedy guard who can penetrate and break down a D. It ain’t Teague, he is to tentative with all those stars out there.

If we can fix these things, the sky is the limit.

Jo Bling

January 18th, 2011
4:53 pm

Jeff – Not really. Just amazed that you would write such a stupid column after watching that game. Do you have any idea what you are watching? Perhaps you could describe how well Joe was fitting into and adapting to the new motion offense yesterday. What a joke.

O'Brien

January 18th, 2011
4:58 pm

Jeff,

I dont think LD is a fan of Teague’s offense (me neither), and maybe he doesnt like his defense either. However, JT has the potential to be better defensively, while Bibby and Jamal’s potential is to be worse defensively.

And in the playoffs, we will probably go up against Nelson from Orlando, Rose from Chicago, Felton in NY, or Rondo in Boston.

Bibby will be a major liability on defense, and if he is not hitting his shots, he will be almost useless, which means more minutes at PG for Jamal. And if Jamal is not hitting his shots, he is almost useless…And then what?

Ryan

January 18th, 2011
5:04 pm

We all want to see more Teague. Hell give him a 5 game start and see what happens. He cant learn and impress if he doesnt play. Were I to trade anyone off the team, It’d be Josh.

E43

January 18th, 2011
5:14 pm

Haha Jeff Shultz just zinged Jo Bling. Your such a bully Jeff… I like it.

Sam

January 18th, 2011
5:21 pm

Why haven’t the hawks been mentioned as a possible landing place for Devin Harris? We could move several of our pieces in a possible move, along with our first round pick. I have never understood why an experienced team like the hawks feel they need to hold onto draft picks anyway. Where we will be drafting, it is not like we’re gonna draft a star. Why not move it for an experienced veteran that could help this year?

Jeff Schultz

January 18th, 2011
5:25 pm

E43 — Fish in a barrel. Fortunately, most of my readers are a lot smarter than him.

Jeff Schultz

January 18th, 2011
5:28 pm

O’Brien — Yeah, I hear ya. I’m not really sure what was going on yesterday since that game was so weird. But we all know Bibby is a defensive liability and help is needed. Hawks wanted Teague to win the starting job (or at least significant minutes) but that’s not the way it’s going now.

Jeff Schultz

January 18th, 2011
5:35 pm

Sam — Devin Harris salaries for the next 3 years (including this one): $8.98 million, $9.31 million, $8.5 million. So obviously to pick him up, you’d have to take salary off the roster. The most attractive piece (notwithstanding some blockbuster Josh trade) would be Jamal Crawford’s expiring $10 million contract. But I just don’t see front office taking on that contract. They’re already committed through 2012-13 to Joe-Al-Josh-Marvin-Zaza. (Bibby expires after 2011-12).

Sam

January 18th, 2011
5:42 pm

Thanks for that explanation. What do you think about moving the first rounder? It’s not like we’re going to get a shot at Ohio State’s Dillinger or UNC’s Barnes. We need to build this thing like the Pistons b/c we are never going to get a shot at someone like Durant or Derrick Rose.

E43

January 18th, 2011
5:46 pm

Jo Bling- i think your a little bit confused. The article is not talking about the game against Sacramento. Its just a general article about the offense.

Najeh Davenpoop

January 18th, 2011
6:05 pm

“Management overpaid to keep him and painted the team into a corner for several years because no other team is going to be willing to absorb a $20 million-a-year contract”

If Rashard Lewis and Gilbert Arenas can be traded, Joe Johnson can be traded.

IceColdATLien

January 18th, 2011
6:09 pm

I find it impossible to believe that Crawford’s expiring contract+promising PG (Teague)+1st round pick can’t get us a starting PG who can defend without being an offensive liability (Billups, anyone?). That would allow us to become bigger on the starting five without sacrificing too much backcourt offense from the bench (b/c Bibby would be the sharp-shooter in relief of Billups). Does this make too much sense???

IceColdATLien

January 18th, 2011
6:10 pm

tru dat, najeh

Najeh Davenpoop

January 18th, 2011
6:12 pm

Joe is “unpopular” in Atlanta because a) the Hawks are one of the most poorly marketed franchises in the NBA, b) the DASG has tried to sell Hawks fans on Joe being a legit superstar, which everyone can tell he’s not, and c) Joe is not the charismatic presence you normally expect from the best player on the team. If people stop expecting Joe to be Kobe or LeBron and accept him for what he is — a team-first, All-Star caliber talent who has done everything the team has asked of him offensively and defensively — they will appreciate him a lot more. No, he doesn’t deserve a max contract, but that shouldn’t blind people to all the things he can do.

Chillin on Paradise Island

January 18th, 2011
6:18 pm

Enter your comments here

Atl teams= Playoff chokers

January 18th, 2011
6:26 pm

Joe Johnson is NOT a leader. He is at a best a 2nd or 3rd option. He is inconsistent and he chokes in the playoffs (you know where the games actually have a meaning). He is an average SG. As long as he in on the team, the Hawks are NOT gonna win a game in the 2nd round. Atlanta Sports is a big fat JOKE. They give us reason to believe during the regular season, then they lay an egg in front of their home crowd in the playoffs.

BTW- im not a fair weather fan, i still watch/will watch Hawks/Falcons/Braves/Thrashers games. Im just a little mad right now..

Atl teams= Playoff chokers

January 18th, 2011
6:39 pm

I cant believe people still believe Joe Johnson is a leader. Did yall not watch the playoffs the two years? He completely disappeared when his team needed him the most, what kind of leader does that? And when the fans started booing him for his putrid playoff performance, he said he doesnt care if the fans show up. Um hello, the fans are the reason you and you teammates are multimillionaires and you dont care if they show up? Then his boss, the ASG, rewards him with a max contract and they act like they actually did something for the fans and the franchise.

Thats like me telling my boss i dont care if the customers show up. What would my boss do? Would he reward me with a huge pay raise? No, he would fire me on the spot.

ATL FAN

January 18th, 2011
7:45 pm

Joe Johnson is back in full from his injury, and he is in his prime. Will be a fantastic ending to this season for JJ. GO HAWKS!!!

ET

January 18th, 2011
7:54 pm

I didn’t watch the game and I don’t know anything about Drew’s new offense. I guess that makes me at least as qualified as Joe Bling to make an assessment about Jeff’s article.My thinking is that Jeff made his observation based on the season as a whole instead of some knee jerk reaction on a single game as Joe Bling obviously did. At least that is the way I see it.

jerry

January 18th, 2011
8:06 pm

Jeff Schultz

January 18th, 2011
8:13 pm

E43 — That is correct.

Jeff Schultz

January 18th, 2011
8:14 pm

IceColdATLien — It’s an interesting trade to explore. But like I said, don’t know if ownership/management would be willing to pick up another big contract.

Jeff Schultz

January 18th, 2011
8:15 pm

Najeh — Good comments.

Ted Striker

January 18th, 2011
8:16 pm

When your best player gets more rest in the regular season it’s a boon. And when your best player seems happy with the role the head coach ASSIGNS him it’s a boon. Everyone gets a star so far.

I’m not skeptical or optimistic, I just wait for thangs to play out.

Jeff Schultz

January 18th, 2011
8:16 pm

ET — Yes, based on the whole season. Thanks.