The Hawks have options now, but they still rely on Iso-Joe

Joe Johnson goes one-on-one. And that's OK sometimes. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Joe Johnson goes one-on-one. Sometimes that's OK. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

I heard an amazing thing Friday night at Philips Arena: The Hawks’ best player got the ball with the game on the line, and some in the crowd groaned and started yelling, “Pass the ball, Joe!”

I’ve never considered Joe Johnson a selfish player. I’ve noted many times how well he and Mike Bibby play off one another. But things are changing, and Bibby isn’t on the floor as much. (He worked nine minutes and made one basket in Friday’s victory over the Celtics.) More and more it’s Johnson and Jamal Crawford paired at game’s end, and there are times — against Oklahoma City on MLK Day, against the Celtics over the weekend — when Johnson ducks his head and goes one-on-five.

It didn’t work against the Thunder. Johnson took eight of the Hawks’ 23 fourth-quarter shots; he missed five of the eight. (He had one assist — it went, naturally, to Bibby.) The Hawks lost. Against the Celtics he took nine of the Hawks’ 19 fourth-quarter shots; he made seven of the nine. The Hawks won.

When in doubt — most NBA games are in doubt — the Hawks revert to Iso-Joe. Against the Celtics it made sense: Ray Allen cannot guard Johnson, and Paul Pierce doesn’t do much better. And when Joe’s hitting the end justifies the means. But Joe doesn’t hit them all, and the day is long past when he was the only Hawk capable of scoring.

Al Horford just made the All-Star team. Josh Smith should have made the All-Star team. Crawford could have made the All-Star team. Trouble is, when Johnson goes into his back-’em-in-and-shoot-the-turnaround routine he’s not apt to see anyone else. (Unless it’s Bibby. He sees Bibby. But Bibby didn’t play in the fourth quarter against Boston.)

It’s weird, though. Even as the Hawks are becoming a fleshed-out team, Johnson is shooting slightly more. He’s averaging 18.4 shots, up from 18.0 last season. He’s playing two fewer minutes per game and averaging one fewer assist — but he’s shooting more. This isn’t necessarily a good thing.

In the Hawks’ emphatic first half against the Celtics, Johnson made one basket. (Took eight shots, though.) It didn’t matter because the ball was moving. (Ten assists on 20 first-half hoops.) In the fourth quarter the Hawks made 11 baskets and had one assist. (Josh Smith made it.) Put simply, Joe stopped the ball. He sealed the game by making seven fourth-quarter hoops, but what if he’d made only four?

Understand: The Iso-Joe stuff isn’t a matter of Joe calling his own plays. Mike Woodson is trying to exploit matchups, and against the Celtics it worked. But with all the players the Hawks have now, Iso-Joe seems as cutting-edge as the Betamax. It’s a throwback to the days when this team had nowhere else to turn. It has options now.

There will be times when the new Hawks still need Joe Johnson to win them a game. They no longer need him to win every game. They’ll require something more than the old fallback to get them to the Eastern Conference finals.

129 comments Add your comment

Brandon from Warner Robins

February 1st, 2010
12:05 am

Evening Mark,

I think Joe forgot how to pass. Trying to do too much heading towards free agency.

Brett

February 1st, 2010
12:15 am

TheAntiMe

February 1st, 2010
12:26 am

I wonder if Joe Johnson, at least subconsciously, is worried that Jamal Crawford is stealing his thunder?

Reid Adair

February 1st, 2010
12:28 am

I have to agree with Brandon. I think “Iso-Joe” is coming around as Johnson nears free agency. Like you said, Mark, I don’t think this is a good thing for the Hawks.

Mark Bradley

February 1st, 2010
12:29 am

I hope it has nothing to do with Crawford. Or Joe’s contract. I hope.

P C

February 1st, 2010
12:30 am

You know the tendency is becoming bad when everyone (myself included) notices it. You cant’ help but wonder if it’s maybe a reaction to now having Crawford (instead of Joe) taking more and more the meaningful shots at the end of the game.

Wes

February 1st, 2010
12:33 am

Kobe Bryant does the same thing. Joe’s no Kobe, but he needs to pass quicker when he’s doubled, because you are right that the Hawks now have too many options to go iso every posession with 8 minutes left in the 4th.

D Wade 2010

February 1st, 2010
12:34 am

Later Joe, Bring on D Wade so we can actually win a championship.

D Wade 2010

February 1st, 2010
12:35 am

Always thought JJ was overrated anyway.

P C

February 1st, 2010
12:35 am

If it has anything to do with Joe’s contract, it certainly isn’t helping him on that front.

P C

February 1st, 2010
12:36 am

On another front, if Woodson is actually calling for that play (”iso-joe”) over and over at the end of the game, we might have the answer for why his contract hasn’t been extended as of now.

Mark Bradley

February 1st, 2010
12:37 am

That’s the difference, isn’t it? If it’s LeBron or Kobe stopping the ball, you figure it’ll work out.

D Wade 2010

February 1st, 2010
12:40 am

Mark.
Do we have enough money to lure D wade to Atlanta if we don’t resign Joe?

Gilley

February 1st, 2010
12:40 am

Chuuuuuuch! Its almost as if that’s the only way for Joe Johnson to get his points or to score. He plays one on one and dribbles too much and we are stagnate. And he takes way too long to make his move. I’ll see of he moved quick and penetrated and drew the double and gave Horford and Smith easy lay-ups but he doesn’t do that. He gives the opposing teams time to double him and see what he is going to do instead of making his move. Now he does pass because he leads the team in assist and is a great passer but like you said Mr. Bradley, he forces when he doesn’t have to and still shoots when he is obviously not having a good game. Work in progress. But great blog. Keep holding players accountable. Good Work!

Mark Bradley

February 1st, 2010
12:42 am

I don’t think the Heat will let Wade leave, D Wade 2010.

TheAntiMe

February 1st, 2010
12:42 am

I think Mark did make a good point. It seem’s that anytime the Hawks are running the half-court offense, you never see the pick and roll, and seldom do you see anyone without the ball cutting to the basket.

The only play the Hawks ever run in their half-court offense is the good ole islation play for Joe. I honestly wonder if Woody knows any other plays on offense? It really makes me wonder.

P C

February 1st, 2010
12:43 am

With the addition of Crawford, I have to admit I’m not as concerned as I was about re-signing Joe. Also, the more Joe has these extended stretches with lack of production (or perhaps “forced attempt at production” to the detriment of the team concept), the more replaceable he looks.

D Wade 2010

February 1st, 2010
12:44 am

I don’t know, I’m sure he is tired of being on a very average Heat team. They better do something or he is gone.

P C

February 1st, 2010
12:45 am

I’m not the biggest fan of Wade, but at least we’d get some calls if he played for the Hawks.

Gilley

February 1st, 2010
12:55 am

I don’t want to lose Joe Johnson as a player because he is a very good player and has done a lot for us but he is hot and cold and not hot enough when he is hot and too cold when he is cold. Plus his personality rubs off the wrong wat. I get excited even seeing him fuss at the refs but he has to learn to work them. You dont have to be loud and get technicals to do that.

Mark, how many technical fouls does Joe Johnson have in his 9-year career span? I will say no more than 10

HawksFan24

February 1st, 2010
12:56 am

Mark,
Are you just now realizing that all Woodson knows how to do on offense is get to ball to Joe either give him a pick and roll or Iso him. Hes been doing this for three years now and you just now notice. Its been a problem with this team for a while that Woodson cannot come up with something other than that.

Outsider

February 1st, 2010
12:56 am

I have been saying this for years. JJ also dribbles too much and it makes our other guys complacent. Woody has no idea how to teach offense. We have too many weapons to strictly depend on JJ. Woody wonders why he hasn’t got an extension yet. In all likelihood JJ will be going to Chicago this summer. I don’t think he wants to be here any longer. He isn’t worth a max contract.

IlliniDawg

February 1st, 2010
12:58 am

Just now noticing this Bradley? Geez, this is why I all season long I have enjoyed this version of the Hawks a lot less than the version of a couple years ago. Too many isolation plays – which are boring no matter who is being isolated, too much Joe and Jamal, not enough inside (which is why we suck against teams like Cavs and Magic), and zero imagination. And Joe is making noises about playing the free agent market? Why have we just handed him the keys to the car here? I still don’t get the Hawks front-office.

Tuco

February 1st, 2010
1:05 am

Another thing for a guy his size he sure hates contact. Has he even dunked the ball 5 times since he has been in Atlanta. Has he ever dunked on somebody.

15.8 ppg
3.2 apg
0.423 fg%
71% free throw
4.3 rpg

These are JJ’s playoff numbers. Yes these numbers are worth 20+ million a season. LOL!!

Dr. Warren

February 1st, 2010
2:47 am

Let’s get to the real question: how will we beat Orlando?

DeepDiver

February 1st, 2010
3:50 am

Even with Joe’s contract off the books the Hawks will not have the cap room to be players in the free agent market. Remember Al’s rookie contract comes up and he will be in line for a raise.

It is in the Hawks’ best interest to resign Joe because they have his Bird rights. If Joe walks this is a 40 win team at best.

The Go Joe offense is Woody’s thing, and it has been that way since day one. It will lead to problems come playoff time, but it is what it is. Woody confirmed as much in Lang Whitaker’s insightful piece when he was embedded with the team for a weekend, as he was quoted as exclaiming “I don’t give a s— about offense!”

On the other hand, the Hawks average the fewest turnovers in the league and the gap from them to he 2nd place team is wide. This is a by-product of an offense that doesn’t move the ball all that much, especially in the 4th qtr — at least they get a shot every time down. It’s just that teams with good perimeter defenders and a legit big man to swallow up all the rebounds (Magic) will eat the ISOs for lunch.

"Chef" Tim Dix

February 1st, 2010
5:41 am

When backs in, it cuases everyone to stop. No cutting to basket, nothing. Everyone prepares to go to the other end or catch the iron clank. If he can’t run with the boys Woody needs to pull him then.
He is the mo stopper.

deja vu

February 1st, 2010
5:50 am

Woody has always ”coached” offense this way, and he always will. That’s his bandwidth. They’ll never make it to the finals with no movement in the 4th quarter. Every time I see them cut and move and blow doors early in the game, and then revert to isojoe, I look to the coach. HE”S NOT JORDAN OR KOBE OR LEBRON! And even Jordan passed to his teammates in crunch time when he got doubled. The Hawks need an offensive coordinator.

timbo

February 1st, 2010
6:31 am

They proved in the Houston road game, they can move the ball and win. Shane Battier held Joe in check, they had to move the ball and did.

hawkman

February 1st, 2010
6:49 am

This is exactly why Woodson may no be our answer. We have a team that is capable of running a motion offense with a cast of characters scoring. Yet we rum the ISO time after time after time. Me thinks it’s coaching. Even if Johnson just has a blind eye, then run plays for different players. Instead Woodson runs the Johnson ISO play. When he is hot it works – when he is not it doesn’t. Nevertheless, the Hawks biggest issue may be an inability to stop a star like Dwight or Labron. THey have a good team but they have a hard time keeping those two from eating them up. I still like the Hawks

Big Daddy

February 1st, 2010
7:13 am

I have been saying this all year. When Joe does the isos he has to use up a lot of energy because it is done over and over again. When he does that he then has to go back and play defense at the other end. By the 3rd quarter he has to be tired and if he has not been called upon to do many isos before then because they have been able to run, that is when they start. No wonder he is low on energy at the end of the season.

Plus, when they run those isos the other players have spots they go to on the floor which is suppose to give him room to drive. What it does is put them in a position not to get a rebound or sometimes even a pass.

We are not going to get pass the 2nd round with an offense like that. What happens if Joe goes down with an injury. Woody has worked so hard to stress team ball, why would he put himself in a position where is his star guard goes down that his offense is going to suffer.

We always do better when we pass the ball around. Horford is a good passer and Josh can be an excellent passer. If we set one of them in the low post and use cutters through the lane we can have people coming off of screens and going to the basket for shots at the rim. This would not only get everyone involved and make us a more balanced team but also really get the crowd in the game.

E43

February 1st, 2010
7:13 am

many points to point out
1) the fans are chasing joe away. i dont think the fans in atl know that joe leaving leaves a big void to be filled either on the bench or on the floor. a guaranteed 15 points essentially is erased of the table and replaced with a question mark. many want joe gone but the only close to better or upgrades include kobe-wade-monta ellis-brandon roy-gil arenas*. the only upgrade to our team without loosing anywhere else is D-Wade via free agency. you can want joe gone but fact is no one will replace him. jamal crawford at best is not a 20 5 5 guard maybe 20 1reb 4
2)back to 1; if joe leaves knowing the chances of an upgrade are slim the hawks will resort to jamal crawford as a starter but who will take jamals place?
3)the new jersey nets are about to break a record with the departure of vc and its not a good record
4) do we even have a point guard that gets significant minutes? jeff teague vanishes and bibby goes to the bench early and is the last guard option in the 4th quarter.
5)bibby hasnt really played horrible and stats show that he has missed approx 1 more shot than he did last year average wise.
6)bibby defense may not be great but not much improves when hes out of the game unless mario west is in
7)back to 6 jeff teague is dependable deffesively… from the little ive seen.
8)theres alot of one on one with the hawks but fact is theres not a single point guard that gets his one on ones going or plays significant minutes to reduce the one on one. i cant be the only one that has seen increased one on one outside the sg position or namely joe
9)jamal was a 4 assist guard when he played 24mpg in chicago hes barely at 2apg 30mpg.
10)joe(18att/g) is the man. the only players(g) with less attempt avgs to score more points than are kevin martin and brandon roy at about 16 att/g. this teams offense will improve but it all depends either deploying point guards or jamal gettin that career 4.1 apg hes used to making. the future will handle itself but our best combination possible is already in our hands.

Dr. Warren

February 1st, 2010
7:34 am

Again, the only question that matters right now is how do we beat Orlando? If we don’t figure it out and/or do something, there’s a good chance we’re gonna lose in the quarterfinals.

JoBjo

February 1st, 2010
7:46 am

Do you think the Hawks will trade Joe before the trade deadline or risk losing him to free agency with no return on investment?

O'Brien

February 1st, 2010
7:48 am

Mark,

Although I agree with most of your article, there is one thing you forgot to mention.

I haven’t looked at the numbers, but I would not be surprised if these Hawks are scoring more points, and playing uptempo will provide them more shots. Plus Crawford probably takes more shots than Flip did, and Josh and Al might also be taking more shots too.

I’m just wondering if everybody (except Marvin and Bibby) is taking more shots because we have extra possessions.

FunkyBobbyJ

February 1st, 2010
8:06 am

You guys, Joe is a great player. No he is not D-Wade, LeBron, or Kobe – but considered a great player by his peers and other coaches. He is really solid on both sides of the ball. I have no doubt that he is doing what Woody wants him to do most of the time. The ISOs can produce ball movement if Joe is doubled, but like most of you I am really frustrated with the Hawks’ stop and stare offense as well as their uneven efforts. Anyone else noticing that Josh is hoisting a few more jumpers, that the starters are getting more tick, and the rookies not being developed? I think that it’s time for a coaching change. I think that Woody is not more than adequate. With adequate, we can take our chances elsewhere. I feel like we should be further along than we are. Good article MB – I think that the Hawks have the talent to be an elite team; they need a coach to take them to the next level – just not sure who that coach is (probably the one coaching the Bobcats).

Wordy

February 1st, 2010
8:09 am

Mark, I know the season is not over and the Hawks and JJ have alot of basketball to play, but realistically he aint coming back next year. Do you know of any free agents the Hawks are high on?

Iblameurparents

February 1st, 2010
8:21 am

I cringe at the iso because it is an antiquated concept put in to exploit mix matches. At the same time I realize you can not have it both ways. For years people have complained about JJ not being a true “superstar”, not having the right personality, not having the fire etc. but when he attempts to exert himself late in the game of which he did with success against Boston albeit awkward everyone complains about the iso. I would ask you to ask yourself this, if Crawford is being denied as he was late in the game against Boston who else would you have take the big shots? JS?, MW?,AH? Now I would ask you this, take JJ off and insert D Wade, Lebron, Kobe (three player we have little to no chance of getting I might add), deny JC at the end of the game and who do they kick out to if the defense collapses? Same difference, my only problem with JJ on the iso in contrast to the three aforementioned is he does not have that athletic explosion or burst that they have and it takes too long for him to get to his shot, he needs to go quicker. But do not tell me about his personality, chest pumping, technicals and standing on scorer tables have never been a prerequisite for championships. I will take his quiet confidence and focus any day. JS can give you all of that. Subtract JJ from this equation if you will and nothing will add up.

F-105 Thunderchief

February 1st, 2010
8:22 am

Excellent piece. In all fairness, the Betamax was a fine machine. But, then so was the Bell rotary phone.

Tremaine

February 1st, 2010
8:34 am

I would have no problem with the Iso-Joe if Joe Johnson passed the ball more. Its clear Marvin and Al have improved there jump shooting and Josh Smith is always cutting to the basket. He would not get double or triple team as much if he was making plays for everybody else. That is what separate Joe from the Kobe’s and Lebron’s. Also, is me or has Joe spot up shooting fell off in the past couple of seasons?

dap01

February 1st, 2010
8:36 am

Joe wanting the spotlight (contract year), Woody not knowing an offensive game plan, make for a perfect ISO Joe scenario.

Joe is an excellent player, he simply needs to help utilize the other good talented players on his team.

Besides, don’t you remember how worn out Joe was at the end of the year last year, he was flat in the playoffs. Come on Woody, Come on Joe!

atl teams fan

February 1st, 2010
8:37 am

Even though I don’t like it, he’s just running the play called(he does dribble with his head down,and no one ever cuts to the basket though). Mike Woodson is the problem. Why, with the roster we have,are we still playing a half court game,and not running more(ala lakers of the 80’s)? Play Jeff Teague a little more with Crawford,Joe,Josh and Al. Mo and Marvin would benefit more as well.Play Mike at the two sometimes and run him off some screens. Run Mo off of screens. We have four or five good shooters who we never run off screens in his beloved half court offense. I never see these things while watching the Hawks. All the switching on defense cause a lot of Matchup problems. We arn’t winning because of him,but in spite of him. COME ON MAN!

dap01

February 1st, 2010
8:40 am

Does anyone out there get the sinking feeling the Jeff Teague is slipping in the same direction as AC Law? Woody inspires no confidence in his ability to coach UP anyone.

Chef Mentuer

February 1st, 2010
8:44 am

GOOOOO SAINTSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Najeh Davenpoop

February 1st, 2010
8:52 am

I don’t think Iso-Joe is contract related, since he’s been doing it his entire time as a Hawk. I don’t think it’s always bad either — in the Celtics game I was OK with it in the 4th, because after he hit those first couple of tough shots, you could tell he was feeling it. I have no problem with feeding the hot hand, whether it’s Joe, Bibby, or Crawford. But let’s face it, if we had a coach who gave a sh-t about offense, we wouldn’t see so much Iso-Joe (or Iso-Crawford for that matter). As long as they continue to have no real offensive system, Joe will try to shoot himself out of a slump just like any other volume scorer. (Ask a 76ers fan how often AI did the same thing). Bottom line is it comes down to the system, and untIl Woody hires an offensive coordinator we’ll have to deal with it.

Najeh Davenpoop

February 1st, 2010
8:58 am

I agree with all of atl teams fan’s ideas, and I’ll add one more — give Josh and/or Al the ball in the high post and let them either create a shot for someone else or drive it to the hoop. This was a play the Kings used to run a lot with Chris Webber. I’ll repeat something I’ve said before — the Kings’ early 2000s offensive scheme under Rick Adelman would be ideal for these Hawks.

Steve

February 1st, 2010
9:17 am

They should call this month back to back month. The next 6 games are all back to back games. 8 games this month are back to back. We always struggle with those games.

Sautee

February 1st, 2010
9:17 am

Najeh,

I know you’ve heard me say “high-low” for a couple of years now.

Big co-sign

Ellis St. John

February 1st, 2010
9:27 am

I think it’s a fore gone conclusion that Joe Johnson is history after this season. The fact that he turned down the extension in the off season, coupled with his overall body language leads me to believe that he’s moving on to greener pastures.

That being said, I have compiled a list of unrestricted free agents that will be available this summer (minus Lebron and D-Wade, who we all know are not coming to Atlanta). Think we should target any of these guys? I’ve put stars by the guys I think make sense in a Hawks’ uniform.

Ray Allen**
Eddie House
Tony Battie
Rafer Alston
Jared Jeffreis**
David Lee**
Nate Robinson
Chris Bosh**
Michael Redd**
Luke Ridnour
Raja Bell
Derek Fisher
Shannon Brown**
Amar’e Stoudemire
Josh Howard**
Manu Ginobili**

There are of course several more guys that will be unrestricted. Should Rick Sund go after anyone on this list? What say you?

Alan

February 1st, 2010
9:33 am

I double checked the games played back to back for the year. The hawks play 44 games, more than half the schedule back to back or 22 times. The other top 3 teams in their conf are as follows
Cleveland 18 back to back times or 36 games. Orlando 19 times or 38 games. And boston the same as cleveland 18 times. This is no doubt an unfair disadvantage for the hawks to have to play 6-8 more games back to back than your competition. I can see this being a swing of 3-4 games. Which will likely keep us under orlando by season’s end.