LeBron James. Dwyane Wade. Amar’e Stoudemare. Carlos Boozer. Chris Bosh.
When the names of those five players are brought up these days, the words “2010 Free Agents” are not very far behind. All five players have the ability to change the fortunes of whatever franchise they happen to chose this summer. And with the exception of Bosh, all of them have done exemplary jobs of showcasing their talents in the playoffs.
James is flirting with averaging a triple-double, despite his constant battle with a mysterious elbow injury; Wade’s Miami Heat squad was bounced in the first round by Boston, but not before he dropped an impressive 46 points in a classic game four performance; Stoudemire and Boozer are basically the only low post threats for their respective teams, and they are averaging 20 points each.
Bosh’s Toronto Raptors narrowly missed the playoffs, but the general feeling is that he did all he could do, despite limited help. It is believed that if he gets with the right team, he can help lead them to a championship–much like Garnett and Ray Allen did for the Boston Celtics.
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But there is one player who is also a free agent this summer, whose name has slipped out of that elite status, based on his poor playoff performance. His name is Joe Johnson.
A cursory glance at Johnson’s playoff averages, will lead one to believe that he is indeed having a solid postseason. He’s averaging 18 points a game (just three below his regular season average), but his rebounds (5.2) and his assists (5.0) are slightly higher. But a closer look at his stats show a much different picture.
Johnson is shooting 39% in the playoffs, which is well below is regular season average of 45%. In this current series with the Orlando Magic, he is shooting a dismal 28% from the floor, and in game three, he shot 3-for-15 and scored just eight points. To make matters worse Johnson is the captain of an Atlanta Hawks team that is on the verge of being swept out of the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
In this Magic/Hawks series, it seems like every Joe Johnson possession has the same beginning, middle and end. He’ll bring the ball up the floor, and attempt to lull his man to sleep with a series of side-to-side and crossover dribbles. Then, after over-dribbling and working down the shot clock, he’ll attempt to blow by his man. But instead of driving all the way to the basket, he’ll take (and miss) a mid-range jumper, and his body language screams of a lack of confidence.
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Things have gotten so bad in Atlanta, that the fans have not only started booing the Hawks, but they’ve specifically booed Johnson’s missed shots. After practice yesterday, Johnson added fuel to the fans’ fire by saying he could care less whether the fans showed up or not.
Any of these issues in isolation, would not be a big deal to an All-Star player of Johnson’s caliber. But when a player who is seeking a maximum contract ,is putting average numbers on a team that is dangerously close to being swept out of the playoffs, and he seems to have allowed the fans in his head, things change a bit. Instead of prospective teams looking at Johnson as the savior or the missing piece to a championship team, they would be well within their right to ask themselves, “What’s wrong with Joe Johnson, why is he looking so average?”
Luckily for Johnson, as putrid as his play as been in this Magic/Hawks series, there is still time for him to prove he’s an above average player. He can look to Wade’s 46 point performance on the brink of elimination, and play inspired baskeball tonight in game four. If he loses and plays well, he’ll be looked at as a warrior in defeat; however, if the Hawks can win, and push this lopsided series to a game five, his sunken stock will rise even more.
If Johnson can ditch the excessive dribbling, and bad shooting, and then play an all- around brilliant game like he did in game 2 of the Milwaukee series, he’ll win back the confidence of the fans, his coach, his teammates—and yes even teams vying for his services via free agency. Then his name will rightfully be placed back on the Mount Rushmore of 2010 free agency.
Anything short of those type of heroics, will leave Joe Johnson and his reputation looking just plain average.