Hawks/Heat, Hawks/Cavs? Joe Johnson's Chance to Become a Household Name

Patrick ParsonsAnalyst IApril 17, 2009

ATLANTA - APRIL 28: Guard Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks had 35 points in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Boston Celtics during the 2008 NBA Playoffs at the Philips Arena on April 28, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Hawks beat the Celtics 97-92 to tie the best-of-seven series at 2-2.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

For the last three seasons, Joe Johnson has been an All-Star and the leader of a young Atlanta Hawks team.

For the last three seasons, he's also been struggling to get respect around the league, from the casual fans as well as his own.

Well, the time has finally come for Johnson to gain that respect, and a fanbase along the way.

How can somebody average 21 points, six assists, over four rebounds, and lead a team with home court advantage into the playoffs, yet be so unknown?

The Atlanta Hawks kick off their first-round series with the Miami Heat this Sunday, and the whole world will be focusing on Dwyane Wade. That is fine, Joe Johnson is used to being an anonymous star, never mentioned in the same breath as the true "stars" in the league.

Countless times, opposing teams' announcers are surprised by Johnson's stats, his All-Star appearances, and his age. Wade is always praised for being so dominant at his age, yet none of that same talk is ever directed toward Johnson.

Both Wade and Johnson are just 27 years old, though Johnson has been in the league three more years. He finally became a full-time starter the same year Wade came into the league.

I'd like to just compare their careers, but I can't because Wade is easily the better player between the two, and I'm not arguing that in the least.

A national spotlight will be on Wade this weekend, and this is Johnson's chance to steal a bit of it.

As badly as ESPN, the NBA, and fans want to see Wade battle Lebron James in the second round, Johnson can stop that from happening.

Johnson could be the one to knock Wade's Heat out of the playoffs. Johnson could be the one to have the showdown with James.

For four years, Johnson has been a quiet leader in Atlanta, averaging 20 points or more, waiting for the pieces to come together. Last year, there were sparks of intensity, athleticism, and potential throughout the series with Boston.

But it wasn't enough.

You want to know how overlooked Johnson is? Last season in the Boston series, Zaza Pachulia took the press coverage for his head-to-head battle with Garnett, despite Johnson averaging more than 20 points, including 35 in a Game 4 win.

The whole series was either about Boston or Pachulia. How can you be the leading scorer on a team that almost upsets the No. 1 seed, yet not garner any recognition?

Well, this is his chance to gain that recognition throughout the playoffs. If he is able to outshine Wade and ruin ESPN's dream matchup, he will have the chance to stare down James and the Cavs in the next round.

Now, nobody is saying that Johnson will definitely outplay James and lead the Hawks into the Eastern Conference finals, but who is to say he won't?

And after that, what happens? A shot to take down Dwight Howard? A rematch against the Celtics? What if Joe Johnson does ruins the NBA's dream matchup and barrels the Hawks into the finals?

Every year, a star is born in the playoffs, a new household name is made. Why not Johnson? For years, he's sat back, waiting for his chance.

Well, here it is, all for the taking.


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