Head to Head: Joe Johnson vs. Caron Butler

Naim KalajiContributor IIJune 10, 2010

Today’s head-to-head matchup features the battle of two shooting guards: Atlanta Hawks’ Joe Johnson and Dallas Maverick Caron Butler.

Butler was originally classified as a small forward. However, ever since he moved from Washington to Dallas, he made what he described as a “difficult transition” to the shooting guard position (with Shawn Marion playing at small forward).

Below are the seven categories used to compare the two players. The player with an advantage in more categories will be deemed the superior player.

  1. Scoring
  2. Mid-range and three-point shooting
  3. Ball-handling
  4. Defense
  5. Strength
  6. Speed and agility
  7. Clutch


Joe Johnson is no stranger to scoring the basketball. Ever since his move to the Atlanta Hawks in the beginning of the 2005-2006 season, Johnson has averaged no less than 20.2 PPG. This year Joe averaged 21.3 PPG.

Johnson can also score in numerous ways, but the majority of his points will come of jump shots and floaters in the lane. From a scoring perspective, there are few shooting guards like Johnson, who provides a consistent offensive threat every night.

Caron Butler hasn’t had a great scoring season, averaging just 16.3 PPG. He played 27 games for Dallas and 47 for the Wizards prior to that. Butler had never been a prime-time scorer, but perhaps he didn’t need to in Washington, especially at a time when he was playing with All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison.

Nevertheless, Butler will get anywhere between 16-20 PPG, and he himself has shown an ability to score from mid-range, from three-point range or in the post.

Winner: Joe Johnson

Mid-Range and Three-Point Shooting

Johnson has a great mid-range game. He can shoot the ball comfortably at any spot on the court, and he shoots it at a healthy percentage. While Johnson shoots at 46 percent, he only knocks down 37 percent of his threes. His shot selection is questionable at times, which explains why his three-point percentage is lower than it should be.

Even with that flaw, 46 percent is very efficient for a shooting guard; with a better three-point percentage, he could potentially be making 48-50 percent of his shots.

Butler shot 42 percent in the regular season. Historically, he averages no higher than 44 percent, but there is no doubt a diminishing efficiency level when it comes to shooting percentages.

His success rate from deep is poor to say the least. He made just 42 threes from 145 attempts, equivalent to a 29 percent three-point percentage. It could be that he’s simply had a bad year, and perhaps it was difficult for him to establish himself outright in Dallas.

Still, he will need to revert to the form when he was consequentially selected as an All-Star, if he is to be regarded as an offensive threat.

Winner: Joe Johnson


Before Mike Bibby came to Atlanta, Johnson was doing the majority of the ball-handling. Even after Bibby’s arrival, Johnson still has the ball in his hands more often than not. He can control the team offense well, but he is more inclined to use his ball-handling ability for his own offense.

The ball is placed in Johnson’s hands most notably in late-game situations, as he has proved he is able to take over a game. His passing game has improved as the years have gone by. From a statistical standpoint, he averages 1.9 turnovers a game, which is hardly damaging.

Caron Butler doesn’t do much ball-handling. Like Johnson, Butler would often find the ball in his hands in late-game situations in order to make the key plays. However, this is more true for his time in Washington, rather than Dallas, where the ball would be in the hands of Jason Kidd or Dirk Nowitzki.

Furthermore, as a traditional small forward, Butler would finish plays off more frequently than creating or controlling plays. Butler averages 2.2 turnovers a game, which is greater than Johnson’s TPG, and he doesn’t touch the ball as often.

Winner: Joe Johnson


Johnson is certainly no lock-down defender. He has the physical capabilities to defend against people even bigger than him. At 6'7" and 240 pounds, Johnson has shown that he can defend the likes of Paul Pierce and other small forwards.

The problem arises when he is exposed for a lack of lateral quickness. Johnson has struggled to defend against the quicker guards. Johnson gets 1.1 steals every game, and he commits 1.9 fouls a game. He rebounds fairly well for a shooting guard, collecting 4.6 RPG.

Butler is a solid defensive player. He averages 1.6 steals a game, but he also picks up 2.6 fouls a game. Forgetting statistics, Butler has great lateral quickness and anticipation to keep players in check.

He is underweight for a small forward/shooting guard, only weighing in at 228 pounds. He can be therefore manipulated, especially when defending the likes of Paul Pierce and LeBron James. Nevertheless, Butler’s defense is often a strong trait that is associated with his overall game.

Winner: Caron Butler


Johnson and Butler have many contrasts in their use of strength.

Johnson uses his strength on defense, where he uses his physical presence as an advantage against some of the small shooting guards, as well as an aid to hang with the larger and more powerful small forwards. Johnson though could use his strength to post up a lot more, perhaps in an attempt to mirror his game to a Kobe Bryant for example.

On the other hand, Butler’s transition to shooting guard ever since he became a Maverick could turn out to aid his utilisation of his strength. No longer having to guard or attack small forwards, Butler has the freedom of posting up or defending physically smaller shooting guards.

Both players can also take contact well and finish, but the advantage undoubtedly has to go to Johnson.

Winner: Joe Johnson

Speed and Agility

As mentioned earlier, Joe Johnson’s lack of foot speed proves to be the Achilles heel when it comes to defense. Johnson’s game can be explosive, but a lot of time it’s his smooth and well-controlled play that makes him so dangerous.

Caron Butler has great lateral quickness, which is particularly useful when it comes to his defensive capabilities. On the offensive end, Butler is a far more explosive player than Johnson. He isn’t afraid to attack the rim with great speed. He has a quick first step as well.

Winner: Caron Butler


This is particularly interesting. Johnson is Atlanta’s go-to man in the fourth quarter, and in late-game situations generally. He has shown he can hit the clutch shots in a variety of ways.

In the 2008 playoffs against the Celtics, in particular, he scored 20 points in the fourth quarter in one of the games, and he was instrumental in a dogged Hawks battle, even though they lost in seven to the eventual champions.

In 2010, there was a complete contrast in his performances in the postseason. Johnson was heavily scrutinized for his abysmal performances against the Orlando Magic. In a four-game demolish session, Johnson averaged just 12.8 PPG, failing to show up on the big stage.

The consequence? It may have damaged his reputation as a free agent come July 1.

Butler has found himself on a stacked team, be it in the capital city or the Big Apple. As a member of the Wizards, Butler hit a few game-winners, but a lot of that responsibility fell on the shoulders of Gilbert Arenas.

He hasn’t had the same opportunities in Dallas. In terms of performing on the big stage, Butler only managed six games in the 2010 playoffs, as his Mavericks squad were beaten by Texas rivals, the San Antonio Spurs. Butler was fairly impressive nonetheless, averaging 19.7 PPG.

Johnson may have the ability to get hot at the right time in matches, but he hasn’t shown an ability to be considered a truly clutch performer. The 2010 playoff performances have certainly spoilt any claims that he is.

Butler has a remarkable 60 percent true shooting in "ultra-clutch" situations, i.e. where there is a minute or less left in a game.

Winner: Caron Butler

Final Score

Joe Johnson 4-3 Caron Butler

Joe Johnson is a pencilled-in All-Star player for each year that passes by. He has a great offensive game, but can tweak some aspects of his defense. Butler, on the other hand, is slowly degrading. He may be new to Dallas, hence his sub-par season, but there has been a decline in his game.

Johnson still has a lot of time left in his career, where he can improve significantly. Even now, he is better in more aspects of a shooting guard’s game than Caron Butler is.

I therefore give the advantage in today’s matchup to Atlanta’s Joe Johnson.


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