But on the 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets, Johnson too often falls victim to the brightness of the stars that surround him.
While Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have earned their big-name reputation, the future Hall of Famers are galaxies away from being able to match Johnson’s importance to Brooklyn. And with injuries continuing to plague Mikhail Prokhorov's high-priced roster, the Nets need Johnson more than ever.
Stepping up after Lopez goes down
Brook Lopez is out for the season with a broken foot, and that injury—the latest in Brooklyn's never-ending scroll of health issues—means that the offense will lose over 20 points and six boards a game.
While that hurts the Nets' interior production, there will be more shots to go around the perimeter, resulting in more offensive explosions from Johnson. On December 16, Iso Joe torched the Philadelphia 76ers for 37 points (13-20 FG), including 29 in the third quarter. He also drilled 10 three-pointers against Philly, the highest total in the NBA this season.
After stumbling out of the gate with a 5-14 record, Brooklyn appears to have gained its footing. The team has rattled off wins in three of its last six, and during that span, Johnson has averaged over 18 points on 50 percent shooting while also grabbing almost five boards and dishing out three assists.
Johnson possesses the rare ability to single-handedly take over games, and has already done so on several occasions this season. With arguably Brooklyn’s top offensive threat now relegated to the sidelines, the door has been opened for Johnson to take an even bigger role in the Nets' scoring attack.
Similarly, when the Nets are in need of a clutch bucket or buzzer-beater, Johnson’s eyes gloss over with visions of game-winners, and his blood gets cold enough to freeze.
According to ESPN New York’s Mike Mazzeo, Johnson drilled nine of his 10 shot attempts from the field last season with the score differential three points or fewer and less than a minute remaining in the game. And, per ESPN Stats & Information, the only two players to have more buzzer-beating shots than Johnson (4) in the last ten years are Kobe Bryant and Gilbert Arenas.
Prior to the season’s opening tip, first-year coach Jason Kidd pegged Johnson as the team’s closer, as reported by Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. Kidd said that Johnson would be the “clear-cut guy taking the last shot,” and pointed to the same numbers that Mazzeo noted: "But if you’re looking at stats, which a lot of you people do, Joe Johnson’s name comes first. … He’s a guy who delivers. He loves that stage at the end of having the ball and making the right play."
And when that happens, enter sandman.
Johnson, D-Will Nets' last hope
Right now, Deron Williams is the face of the Nets. Upon the return of the oft-injured star guard back on December 10, Brooklyn has played with greater fluency and sense of purpose. More importantly, they’ve actually been winning.
A large part of Johnson's role as the team's X-factor is contingent upon his ability to thrive with D-Will in the backcourt.
According to NBA.com, Johnson’s shooting percentage has improved at every spot on the floor since Williams returned to the starting lineup. With D-Will running the point, Johnson has connected on an impressive 50 percent of his shots from beyond the three-point arc, while also shooting about 53 percent from the field.
Both players are comfortable playing off of one another, and will have to collectively shoulder a greater portion of the offensive load now that Lopez is out for the year.
Johnson and Williams can still carry the Nets to the top of the Atlantic division, but that’s Brooklyn’s only hope in light of the recent Lopez news.
When Johnson gets hot, there is no stopping him—just ask the Sixers.
After coming into the season as little more than an afterthought, the bright lights of New York have shifted onto Iso Joe.
When Johnson plays well, the Nets win. And with everything that’s gone wrong thus far with this team, Brooklyn needs their veteran scoring machine to return to All-Star form.
It’s a lot to ask of one player, but Johnson has shown throughout his career that he lives for pressure-packed moments like this.
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