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This isn't about looking ahead at what's to come, it's about understanding what Joe Johnson has produced for this team and where that production stacks up among all the gentlemen who have worn the ATL colors.
After all, I understood those contributions completely throughout the campaign to talk the Hawks into financial sobriety as it pertained to Joe and his future (or non-future) as a Hawk.
4th in Points per game (21.7)
6th in Total points
T4th in Assists per game
2nd in Three pointers made
1st in 3 point %
7th in Assist %
3rd in Usage %/ 4th in Turnover Rate
T7th in PER (18.3)
Johnson put these numbers up in such a way, night after night, that he has re-defined "ho-hum" and had those of us who watch the team every day taking for granted that a player with the skills that Johnson had the production that came forth. It's not Joe's fault that he doesn't fly through the air to score like THHF...he hits his shots (6th most FG made), and plays a ton of minutes (#1 in MPG...and it's not close).
Joe takes and makes shots, plays a hard, grinding style that doesn't lend itself to ooohs and ahhhs, unless you count the two mega-bombs he hit Dwyane Wade over the head with in the playoffs two years ago.
Joe was the centerpiece, for better or worse, that BIlly Knight decided he would build his dream team around. It made sense to the GM who didn't believe in definitions as it pertained to basketball positions. Johnson, at 6'8, able to shoot threes, score inside, handle the basketball, defend multiple positions on the floor, was Knight's ideal player.
And, as Knight added players to the roster, with Johnson at the core, the Hawks slowly rose, season by season, from their miserable 13 win campaign the year before Johnson arrived in Atlanta to the 53 win high water (so far) mark last season.
Three consecutive playoff appearances and four All-Star games later and Johnson was at the heart of the greatest turnaround this franchise has seen. This can't be debated. Whether you feel that Josh Smith is a better/more exciting talent or that the franchise finally took that last step when Knight acquired Mike Bibby to run the point, you can't escape that Johnson was the go-to guy throughout this entire run.
For a fan who watched the team endure what was, in stark contrast, the most painful stretch of seasons, the arrival of a player that even could be a centerpiece and All-Star was most welcome, as was the improvement and return to NBA relevancy that followed.
Heck, even today the Hawks can't get superstar players like Chris Paul or Carmelo Anthony to even put the Hawks on a short list of teams they would want to go to despite the gauy win total, young front court talent, and fantastic home city. So that Johnson was willing to come aboard after a 13 win season, coming from the Steve Nash led, playoff nested Phoenix Suns was big for the Hawks. Sure, there were millions and millions of reasons to come, and Johnson wasn't likely to be placed at the center of a franchise except Atlanta, but still, he came, and the Hawks were definitely better off because of it.
He doesn't possess the endless external passion that most fans want their star player to have or the dominant athleticism that even his teammate Josh Smith has, both points which have suppressed the excitement fans have towards Johnson, then and now.
Johnson has authored two of the more defining and enduring positive moments in Atlanta playoff history.
The first was already referenced, but worth repeating. Johnson's 27 point, 5 rebound, 4 assist, 5 steal series winning performance in Game Seven against the Heat in 2009 was exactly the type of performance you want your best player to have in that type of game. Johnson was 6-8 from three point range in that game, including two "in your face" bombs from well beyond the three point line, right on top of Heat star Dwyane Wade, who likely fouled Johnson on one of those makes.
The other was the epic shot Johnson made in Game Four against the Celtics in 2008. Crossing over Leon Powe and then calmly stepping back and hitting that big shot in the fourth quarter was stirring and clutch.
You can debate the price that was paid then, and now, or whether it exactly measured out to be "worth it", but Johnson has produced since being a Hawk and has delivered in being the top Hawk in the nest and hopefully will continue to over the next six seasons, after which he'll definitely have the most money earned as a Hawk, and no doubt will edge up all of the Atlanta counting stats by the his time in Atlanta is done.