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State of the Hawks "Joe Johnson" position

Joe Johnson is the heart and soul of this team. He is the all-star. The leading scorer. The focal point of the offense. The guy who takes the last shot. The star of our piano commercial.

But as I break down the Hawks by position, it is hard to truly look at anyone in this position other than Joe. There is the one, the three, the four, the five, and the Joe Johnson. He is just the fifth position. From a defensive perspective that might mean Joe guards some small forwards, some point guard, but his style of play remains the same. And it is a style rarely absent from the floor. When you play the most minutes in the league, you do not worry about what position they are labeling you on NBA Live. You just play. Joe is a member of the top 17 five-man units. The final line up tying the Murray-Evans-Williams-Pachulia line up with 36 minutes total for the season.

Joe is good enough to be all the accolades mentioned in the opening, but it could easily be argued he is given the opportunity to reach those levels more than his skill raises him to those heights.

A year in review

As you look back at Joe Johnson's year, it is tough to judge his effectiveness. After all, he played the Joe Johnson position. That is like telling Jack Nicholson he is bad at a Jack Nicholson impression. In Joe, you have a guy that can facilitate the ball. He led the team in assists. He can hit the outside shot, but goes cold on occasion. Can drive the lane and score but does so on such a regular basis the paint can become very crowded. He lacks the athleticism to finish above the rim and can play above average defense on all but maybe four shooting guards and small forwards in the league. That is a darn good resume, and you cannot say he did not live up to or down to any of those characteristics. Joe Johnson was an excellent Joe Johnson.

Really, the issue with Joe Johnson is that the he and the coach sometimes decide he is Dwyane Wade. And Joe Johnson does a bad Dwyane Wade impression. Then it turns into too many minutes, too many shots, and a lot of standing around by the other guys who don't play a role but just a position.

It should not be surprising that on a team where only two guys have truly defined roles, Woody has no choice but to overuse one of them. Zaza could play Zaza. Joe could play Joe. But with no other player able to live into an actual identity, of course it is easy to call another play for Joe, to keep him out there. You know what you are going to get with him. And all of a sudden the Hawks have overused their most honed commodity at the loss of defining any new ones.

Looking Forward

If Mike Woodson cannot find the trust, player rotation, communication skills to define roles for the other four players on the court next to Joe Johnson, this team has certainly peaked with its second round exit. His inability to do so now has caused the one defined role to be overused at the point of diminishing returns. A curtail of Joe Johnson for the sake of others could be the best move for Joe Johnson and the rest of the team.

A few ways of looking at this beyond the play less minutes, take less shots, get other players involved obvious points that we all know.

  • Joe Johnson at the three.

Of those most used five man rotations, number 3, 8, and 10 had Joe Johnson playing with Flip Murray and Mike Bibby. Therefore, Joe Johnson played the Joe Johnson position against small forwards. Two of those rotations produced the best plus/minus out of the 20 most used rotations. The lowest winning percentage of the three was a very respectable 59%. With Marvin Williams as a restricted free agent, I wonder what a sign and trade would look like with the Hawks getting a two guard in return.

  • Drafting a two

James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Gerald Henderson, Wayne Ellington, Tyreke Evans are all capable of supporting a Joe Johnson and all come with sizable risk. Whether it is moving up in the draft, having to wait for development, or lacking large upside, no player is a sure fire pick, but they could offer either decent defense or offense to allow Joe to get a breather and focus the offense on other players. Also, getting lucky with a two guard in this draft would provide serious leverage come 2010 and Joe's free agency.

  • Resigning Flip Murray

Flip played only about 30 total minutes at the two guard when Joe Johnson was not on the floor. He was also at his most effective when he could back smaller defenders down into the paint. A resigning of Flip Murray could be a great move by the Hawks, but it will not solve the Joe Johnson position problem.

  • Mo Evans

Mo is back next year. Possibly because of injuries to Marvin, probably because Woodson settled on his lineups by flipping a coin in October and never made any adjustments, but Mo played very little in place of the Joe Johnson position. Not sure how that would play out if it was different but worth a mention if Marvin returns next year.

Final Thoughts

Joe is probably not going to be traded. Therefore, the question becomes how does the team maximize Joe's ability when we probably will not see much skill set improvement. And I think Joe is poorly utilized by being over utilized and a redefining of the Joe Johnson position will not only increase his effectiveness by forcing defensive attention elsewhere but will help define other players into their roles in a five person offense instead of a one man show.

Go Hawks!