Top Landing Spots for BIG3 MVP, Former NBA Star Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson not only won the BIG3's 2019 MVP award, but he had arguably the best individual season in the league's short history.
This summer, he set records for points (175), points per game (21.9), assists (31) and assists per game (3.9) in the regular season. Johnson's 175 points made up 48.6 percent of his Triplets' total for the year.
In the regular season and playoffs combined, the Triplets went 9-1. Johnson ended six of those contests with game-winners.
And after the dominant performance in his first run in the BIG3, NBA teams are once again interested in the 38-year-old.
According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, the veteran "will audition for three Eastern Conference playoff teams from a year ago in the Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets." That's in addition to interest from the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Pelicans, according to ESPN's Marc J. Spears.
Among all of these squads, we can likely eliminate Denver right away. Although Johnson's stretch-4 ability makes theoretical sense next to Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets already have Paul Millsap, Jerami Grant, Michael Porter and Juancho Hernangomez to soak up those combo-forward minutes.
Milwaukee is probably out, too. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver, Ersan Ilyasova and D.J. Wilson should have the wing/forward minutes locked down.
Despite his advanced basketball age, you can see reasons why the rest of the teams mentioned above would be interested in Iso Joe.
The 76ers are set to combat modern trends by playing a more traditional frontcourt with Al Horford at the 4 and Joel Embiid at the 5. Tobias Harris can slide to power forward when Horford or Embiid are out for a modern look, but it looks like plenty of twin-towers minutes are on the way.
But with 96 minutes to go around at the forward spots, Philadelphia could use another floor spacer.
The rest of the interior depth chart features Mike Scott, Jonah Bolden and Kyle O'Quinn. The latter two are more centers than power forwards. Scott has posted a below-replacement-level box plus/minus in each of his last two seasons.
Johnson had his own struggles during his last NBA run in 2017-18. Among players who logged at least as many minutes that season, he was 236th out of 244 in box plus/minus and 232nd in true shooting percentage.
But he may have been miscast then. In Utah and Houston, Johnson averaged 21.9 minutes and 10.8 field-goal attempts per 36 minutes. Perhaps a smaller role—maybe even a "break glass in case of emergency" role—would suit him better as he edges closer to 40.
With Philadelphia, the bulk of the power forward minutes will likely go to Horford and Harris. Mike Scott will probably get some, too. Johnson would be no higher than fourth on their depth chart, and asking him too much more doesn't make sense.
Los Angeles Clippers
In an offseason packed with player movement, rumors and superstar team-ups, the Clippers may have made more noise than anyone.
Not only did they land the summer's top free agent in Kawhi Leonard, but they also traded for Paul George to create what is perhaps the league's best forward tandem.
They now have options at the forward positions, as The Athletic's Jovan Buha noted:
"Considering LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who are both bigger than Leonard and George, have refused to play the 4 full time, and George famously shot down the suggestion in Indiana, it’s unlikely that either Leonard or George agrees to bang with bulkier power forwards to start each half. That would give [JaMychal] Green the inside track to starting.
"If the Clippers end up going small, with Leonard and George in the frontcourt and [Landry] Shamet next to [Patrick] Beverley, [Rodney] McGruder and [Maurice] Harkless would slide to the backup 2 and 3, respectively, with Green becoming the backup 4. The remaining players’ roles would largely remain unchanged."
The big draw with playing either George or Leonard at the 4 is the positionless potential. With those two, Beverley and Shamet, the Clippers could essentially switch 1 through 4 on defense. Shamet is the biggest potential defensive weakness there, so replacing him with another combo forward like Harkless or Johnson could make L.A. even more switchable.
If the Clippers sign Johnson, it would be more of a depth play than anything. But if he ever shared the floor with Leonard, George or both, he should get plenty of open looks as defenders focus on the superstars. And with his extra bulk (he was last listed at 240 pounds), he may be more willing to take the physical punishment some 4s still dish out.
New Orleans Pelicans
According to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated, some of the New Orleans Pelicans' decision-makers recently got a firsthand look at Johnson.
"Add the Pelicans to that list of interest in Joe Johnson," Spears tweeted. "Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry and VP David Griffin watched Joe Johnson play in the @thebig3 in New Orleans last week."
At that game, Johnson scored 26 of his team's 50 points, hit one of his game-winners and had time to pose for a picture with Gentry and Griffin. If that was his audition, he likely made a favorable impression.
Four days later, New Orleans' need for a shooting forward became even greater. On Aug. 29, the team announced Darius Miller had surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles, which typically sidelines players for at least a full season.
With Miller out and several questionable shooters (Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Derrick Favors and Zion Williamson) on the way in, New Orleans should be in the market for shooting.
Johnson isn't the player he was in his prime, but he's 12th in NBA history in career made threes.
Blake Griffin is probably underrated.
The complete list of players who match his averages for points (21.9), rebounds (9.0) and assists (4.5) per game reads as follows:
- Larry Bird
- Blake Griffin
And over the last two seasons, the Pistons big man added a more-than-reliable three-point game:
- First six seasons: 27.1 three-point percentage on 0.4 three-point attempts
- 2016-17: 33.6 three-point percentage on 1.9 three-point attempts
- 2017-18: 34.5 three-point percentage on 5.6 three-point attempts
- 2018-19: 36.2 three-point percentage on 7.0 three-point attempts
Griffin's evolution solves some of the issues with playing him alongside Andre Drummond, but the Pistons could still use more shooting from Blake's position, especially since he's averaged fewer than 60 games per season since 2014-15.
The Pistons' only backup 4 is Markieff Morris. And as if that wasn't dicey enough, Thon Maker and Christian Wood make up the rest of Detroit's frontcourt depth chart.
If Griffin or Drummond miss any time, the Pistons are in trouble. That would still be the case even if they signed Johnson, but filling out the roster with his experience and shooting is worth the look.
Over three-and-a-half seasons with the Nets, Johnson averaged 14.7 points and shot 37.8 percent from three. He even made the All-Star team in 2014.
However, it's been three-and-a-half seasons since Iso Joe last donned Brooklyn's black and white. And being one-sixth of a now-infamous Sports Illustrated cover is part of his legacy there.
Perhaps that's the reason to come back.
After the "superteam" quickly fizzled out, the Nets seemed destined to rise no higher than basketball purgatory for the foreseeable future.
Thanks to three-and-a-half years of shrewd team-building from general manager Sean Marks, Brooklyn has all but erased what could have been a decade of mediocrity or worse.
Johnson returning to provide a few bright moments for this new iteration of the Nets would be a time-is-a-flat-circle-level end to his career.