Can Joe Johnson Overtake Carmelo Anthony as League's Best Isolation Scorer?

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Can Joe Johnson Overtake Carmelo Anthony as League's Best Isolation Scorer?
Alex Trautwig/Getty Images
"Iso-Joe" Johnson

Joe Johnson is the new big isolation guy in New York, but does he have what it takes to become a bigger threat than Carmelo Anthony?

The former Atlanta Hawks guard has more tools in his arsenal than the one-on-one game, but his prowess in that area has earned him the bemusing nickname, "Iso-Joe," according to The New York Times. He was heavily employed in the isolation as a Hawk, averaging over 18 points per game in each of his seven seasons in Atlanta.

Now that he has a change of scenery and a team with championship aspirations, is Johnson going to take his scoring to the next level?

Perhaps, but in a way that will actually detract from his isolation game. In fact, Melo is likely to widen the gap between himself and Iso-Joe even more given the ways the Knicks are utilizing him this season.

Joe Johnson is a very good iso scorer, but let's take a look at some reasons why he won't stand a chance of surpassing Melo after moving to Brooklyn.

 

Too Many Low-Percentage Shots

Joe Johnson's 2011-12 Shot Selection, from 82games.com
Take a look at Johnson's shot selection breakdown from last season. Even though he's known for his iso game, Joe still has a shooting guard's body. At 6'7", 240 pounds, he's bigger than most guys playing the 2, but he's a shoot-first, drive-second guy, living on the midrange jumper. That's not the efficient way to do things, and it can come back to bite him when it counts.

That's Brandon Roy absolutely shutting down Johnson's try for a game-winner. Even though Joe has an inch and 30 pounds on the then-Blazer, he tries to beat him off the dribble rather than muscle him towards the basket. Johnson gets a step, but is quickly overwhelmed by Roy's active hands and fails to beat the shot clock with a contested, off-balance 20-footer.

In print and in the highlight, no part of that play is pretty for Joe. Roy does play extraordinary defense on this play, but he is aided by Johnson falling back on habits rather than exploiting the matchup at hand. Even if Roy never knocks the ball away, he stays on Joe the whole time; a tough jumper was the inevitable outcome. Johnson gets the blame for that.

 

Power Forward Melo is Scary

Carmelo Anthony's 2011-12 Shot Selection (from 82games.com)
Not only is Carmelo Anthony far superior to Iso-Joe at getting easier shots, the Knicks are starting to get him even better scoring opportunities.

With Amar'e Stoudemire out with a knee injury, Melo has moved up to power forward as New York employs a small-ball lineup. The result is that a physically dominant small forward gets more looks from the elbows, where he is just deadly.

Thaddeus Young has no chance to stop Anthony on this play. After using his strength to position himself to receive the pass, Melo wastes little time to get to the basket. There's just about a half-second feint, right before he puts down a dribble and does away with Young on a spectacular spin to the basket.

This and-one is an artful display of both athleticism and efficiency. Yet Melo could have just as easily bulled Young into the paint and gone up strong with the layup, which would have had the same effect. He has the agility to beat big men and the physicality to punish wings, an arsenal that makes him nearly unstoppable when you put him even closer to the basket.

 

He's Not the Best Net With the Ball

With Deron Williams running the point, Johnson is not going to have the same opportunities to dominate the ball.

This neat little play exhibits a number of things about Williams' game.

First of all, he's a creative genius with the ball in his hands. Though the between-the-legs pass to a trailing Anthony Morrow seems like showboating on the surface, there's more to it than that. The fancy ball work enables Williams to screen both defenders in the area, giving no hope of possibly closing on Morrow as he nails the spot-up three.

Though Williams gets the credit and the attention on this highlight, it really is an unselfish play. Deron's man is back on his heels and twisted from the basket at the point of the pass. With a head of steam and his killer crossover, Williams would not have had any trouble beating him back to the inside and getting to the basket. Instead, he identifies an open teammate and he makes the best play possible.

More defensive attention on Deron, an explosive driver and adept passer, means a very good thing for Joe: more open looks. Where he had to force the ball himself in Atlanta to get scoring opportunities, Williams is going to get him the ball in better spots on the floor, and he's going to make opponents give him more space than he's had in years.

Unless Joe Johnson can figure out how to work inside like that, he cannot compete with Carmelo Anthony in the iso game. Fortunately, as long as he is playing alongside Deron Williams in the backcourt, he won't have to try.

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