Why Joe Johnson is a More Versatile Threat than Carmelo Anthony

 

joe-johnson-carmelo-anthony-nba-brooklyn-nets-new-york-knicks

Anthony towers over Johnson as a celebrity, but not as an offensive talent.

Yesterday, Miami’s Shane Battier shed insight into the difference between the two best small forwards in New York City:

“There’s not a lot you can take away,” he said of Joe Johnson’s offensive ability.  “I’m not saying you can take away…but Carmelo Anthony, he’s so left-hand dominant. So if you make him put it in his right hand, he really struggles. Joe, you can’t really do that. You really just have to fight him, play him honest, make him work for catches. Don’t let him get any free catches, because once he gets a free catch, he’s got multiple options.”

Battier isn’t the only Heat player praising Johnson’s abilities as Johnson’s Nets get set to clash with the Heat tonight, according to Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report. Dwayne Wade first realized just how talented Johnson was in the 2006, when the two players joined a star-studded cast including Anthony, LeBron James and Dwight Howard in Japan for the FIBA World Championships.

From afar, I knew he was good,” Wade told Bleacher Report after Wednesday’s Heat practice. “But we were practicing, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know he was this good.’ And we were all, like, ‘Joe, you know how good you are?’ He was like, ‘Whatever.’” That team didn’t win the gold medal, falling to Greece and settling for bronze. But Johnson won the respect of his peers, tying with Howard for fifth on the team in scoring.

That trip was likely also the start of a close power circle that almost made Johnson a teammate of Wade four years later. Johnson, James and Wade planned to discuss their free agency plans in spring of 2010. Fast forward yet another four years, and Wade and James, of course, have gone on to win two NBA titles together and establish one of the great mini-dynasties in NBA history. Johnson, meanwhile, has lost 13 of the 16 second round games he has played in and has yet to deliver a signature NBA playoff series win. Beating his old friends would certainly qualify.

“He’s talented, man,” Wade told Skolnick as Miami prepared for Game 2 of the Brooklyn-Miami series. “But his personality, he’s so quiet. And no one’s ever pushed him.”

Johnson must push himself if his Nets will have any shot whatsoever of dethroning the champs.

 

For more on Johnson, check out my Sporting Life Arkansas article comparing his playoff plights with Sidney Moncrief.

The greatest Razorback NBA player of the 20th century never made it to the Finals. Blame injuries and the best small forward of his era. By 1986, 28-year-old Sidney Moncrief had transformed his Milwaukee Bucks into perennial Eastern Conference contenders who won seven straight divisional titles. But they got over a hump in the 1986 playoffs only to run into a mountain.

In the second round, the Bucks won that franchise’s first seventh game of a playoff series, beating nemesis Philadelphia 113-112 at home. Moncrief, who had missed four games in the series due to plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation of the foot, gutted it out for 35 minutes in the pivotal contest. He “played as brave a playoff series as anyone since the Knicks’ Willis Reed hobbled onto Madison Square Garden floor against the Lakers in 1970,” Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum wrote.

Moncrief’s left heel and chronically sore knees weren’t the only ailments afflicting Milwaukee heading into the next round. Its other star, Terry Cummings, had a dislocated finger and scorer Ricky Pierce had sprained his ankle. But the Bucks’ most formidable obstacle came in the form of their next opponent’s 29-year-old, six-feet-nine small forward. Larry Bird had already won two consecutive MVP awards and led his team to two NBA titles. What resistance could Moncrief and the Bucks hope to put up as he steamrolled to another?

****

Fast forward to 2014, and now Joe Johnson –  this century’s greatest Razorback NBA’er – faces another 29-year-old, six-feet-nine force of nature.

More here.

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Is Joe Johnson the worst All-Star selection in modern NBA history?

Evin Demirel:

Joe Johnson now has more All-Star appearances than Adrian Dantley, Joe Dumars, Chris Mullin,  Reggie Miller and Chris Webber. Is this a travesty? In the well-researched blog below, David Brown makes the case that it is.

I do agree Joe has a strong case this season for being the least deserving All-Star in NBA history – from a statistical standpoint. But David fails to mention two factors that played into his selection this year. First, the Nets are one of the league’s best teams since January 1. They very well may end up storming into the Playoffs and contend in the East – just as was originally forecasted. A big reason for that turnaround will have been Joe’s stellar play over a dozen-game period in January when he hit two game winners. Overall, his season hasn’t been All-Star worthy, but the coaches are likely voting for him because of this first-team All-NBA stretch he had.

Another factor to consider: Joe’s intangibles. He’s a better leader and team unifier than many NBA fans give him credit for. Consider what his presence did for the careers of Josh Smith , Al Horford and even Marvin Williams towards the end of his time in Atlanta. He’s steady, and you can count on him from an emotional standpoint – in this way, he’s similar to Tim Duncan. That kind of consistency is huge in a locker room culture where high pressure and outsized egos are often combustible combinations. My feeling is that some coaches voted for Joe less for his streaky three-point shooting and more the respect they have developed for who he is as a consummate team player.

Yes, rewarding someone for team play is not the purpose of an All-Star selection. But you’ll never convince those silly coaches of that.

Originally posted on NBA Observer:

Image

Kyle Lowry, Arron Aflalo, Al Jefferson and Lance Stephenson each had a better case to make the All-Star Game than Joe Johnson, who was voted in as a reserve this week by NBA coaches. His inclusion must go down as the most baffling in modern All-Star memory.

At this stage in Johnson’s career, he is a one-dimensional scorer who is not particularly good at that one dimension. At 15.7 points per game, he is 53rd on the league’s leading scorers list – just slightly ahead of Gerald Henderson, Carlos Boozer and Dion Waiters – and ranks just 141st in PER.

View original 1,176 more words


NBA Arkansans Ranked In Order of Highest Scoring Game

joe johnson 29-points-quarter

You go, Joe.

On Monday night, Joe Johnson had a quarter for the ages. In one twelve-minute span, the Brooklyn Net scored 29 points including eight three-pointers. That’s historic stuff – tying an NBA record for most threes in a quarter and four points away from the record for most points in a quarter.

But Johnson’s spectacular play in the third quarter didn’t extend to the rest of the game. In the first half, he scored eight points and declined an opportunity to play in the fourth. He ended up totaling 37 points – only the 11th highest scoring game of his career.

Johnson’s third-quarter explosion was noteworthy because he’s never been a supremely explosive scorer. Although he was a main scoring option in Atlanta for years, his career high is 42 points. Where does this career high rank all-time among NBA Arkansans?

Wonder no more. Below are all instances of an NBA Arkansan scoring 40 or more points, ranked in order of highest scoring games.

Carroll, a Pine Bluff native, holds the top spot.

Carroll, a Pine Bluff native, holds the top spot.

1. Joe Barry Carroll

Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     24-224 1983-03-05 GSW  UTA W       22  32 .688 22           0          8  13  .615 52     
2     22-211 1981-02-20 GSW  SDC L       17          17           0         12  17  .706 46     
3     28-192 1987-02-01 GSW  NJN W  1 55 15  37 .405 15  37 .405  0   0     13  18  .722 43 
4     24-196 1983-02-05 GSW  SAS W       14  26 .538 14           0         12  14  .857 40
Age = XX-YYY; XX=Years Old, YYY=Days Old

2. Scottie Pippen

Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA   2P% 3P 3PA   3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     31-146 1997-02-18 CHI  DEN W  1 41 19  27 .704 17  22  .773  2   5  .400  7   7 1.000 47 
2     25-151 1991-02-23 CHI  CHH W  1 31 16  17 .941 16  17  .941  0   0       11  15  .733 43 
3     26-156 1992-02-28 CHI  MIL W  1 42 17  24 .708 17  23  .739  0   1  .000  7   7 1.000 41 
4     30-146 1996-02-18 CHI  IND W  1 44 14  26 .538 10  19  .526  4   7  .571  8  10  .800 40 
5     29-167 1995-03-11 CHI  LAL L  1 40 16  26 .615 12  19  .632  4   7  .571  4   5  .800 40
One of the few stats where he outdid the Sid in the pros.

One of the few stats where he outdid the Sid in the pros.

3. Ron Brewer

Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     26-055 1981-11-10 SAS  LAL W       19          19           0          6   7  .857  44     
2     26-052 1981-11-07 SAS  NYK W       16          16           0          8   8 1.000  40

4. Sidney Moncrief

Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA   3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     26-059 1983-11-19 MIL  DEN L       13  17 .765 13           0           17  19  .895 43     
2     25-156 1983-02-24 MIL  HOU W       14  24 .583 14           0           14  14 1.000 42

5. Joe Johnson

Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA   3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     24-251 2006-03-07 ATL  GSW W  1 48 14  27 .519 10  17 .588  4  10  .400 10  10 1.000 42 
2     27-181 2008-12-27 ATL  CHI W  1 44 16  31 .516 12  25 .480  4   6  .667  5   6  .833 41 
3     28-173 2009-12-19 ATL  CHI L  1 48 16  32 .500 11  25 .440  5   7  .714  3   4  .750 40 
4     24-263 2006-03-19 ATL  ORL W  1 48 17  24 .708 12  19 .632  5   5 1.000  1   2  .500 40 
5     24-240 2006-02-24 ATL  IND W  1 47 16  24 .667 11  19 .579  5   5 1.000  3   3 1.000 40 
6     24-213 2006-01-28 ATL  CHI L  1 46 16  25 .640 12  21 .571  4   4 1.000  4   4 1.000 40

6. Alvin Robertson

Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA   3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     23-152 1985-12-21 SAS  DEN W  1 43 14  19 .737 13  18 .722  1   1 1.000 12  14  .857 41 
2     25-272 1988-04-19 SAS  LAL L  1 44 17  28 .607 16  25 .640  1   3  .333  5   6  .833 40 

7. Todd Day
Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA   3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     25-349 1995-12-22 BOS  MIN W  0 38 11  18 .611  6  10 .600  5   8  .625 14  16  .875 41 

8. Corliss Williamson
Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA   3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     24-090 1998-03-04 SAC  DET W  1 40 16  23 .696 16  23 .696  0   0        8   9  .889 40 

9. Archie Clark
Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA FG% 2P 2PA 2P% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     30-134 1971-11-26 BAL  ATL W       15                               10  11  .909 40

O.K. Hard as I might try, I just can't slam the door on folks who nearly scored 40 points
but fell a shade short. Here are members of the 39-Point Club:
Eddie Miles
Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA 2P% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     27-251 1968-03-12 DET  SEA W       18                                 3   3 1.000 39

Darrell Walker
Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA   3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     26-014 1987-03-23 DEN  UTA L  1 36 13  18 .722 13  18 .722  0   0       13  16  .813 39 
2     26-002 1987-03-11 DEN  UTA W  1 40 14  21 .667 14  21 .667  0   0       11  14  .786 39

Another “Joe Johnson Is Very Big In China: A Love Story” Epilogue

You BET there's a story behind this.

You BET there’s a story behind this.

Over the last three years, I’ve had the pleasure of communicating with China’s No. 1 Joe Johnson fan, Yonsan Johnson. We’ve long discussed how his life and his Joe Johnson Fan Club would make a good subject for an article. Today, that story published here.

Below are some of his most recent e-mails to me. In them, you’ll see despair over the fact that Joe hasn’t replied to Tweets in a couple of years, but later you’ll also see hope – hope that Joe will help lift the Nets past the Bulls in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

Tonight is Game 6. Brooklyn’s in Chicago, down 3-2. If Joe finally turns it on and helps the Nets topple the Bulls, expect the Chinese Joe Johnson Fan Club’s numbers to swell.

Feb 11
Hi, Evin.
how u doing?
I’m now at home with my family for the Chinese new year.

today i am writing to you just wanna talk about my recent feeling about “be a fan of Joe Johnson”.

how time flies, since that gift(Great progress on it) sent to Johnson… lost, dissappointment…
on may 18th, 2011… I found his twitter, gave him some tweets… he replyed…
after that, I would like to tweet to him… supports, greetings, just liked a friend… an ordinary friend…
I showed him the video mix links as well…
I aslo sent him some tweets on SPRING FESTIVAL’S EVE and today…. but, he never gave me the reply…
I don’t know what I was doing wrong, or why he ignored me…

at least… how can you treat your fans like that?

everytime I told myself:”Just do your best, he will know that one day…”
but… everytime you got dissappointment… even… the despair…

I’m now thinking about to give up… maybe… I’ve been doing the useless things…

OK, I can’t say to much now, it is to late…

Evin…
If one day you got the chance to meet Joe Johnson, please tell him…
he used to have a big supporter in China… really loyalty supporter…

Read the rest of this entry »


Michael Cage, Scottie Pippen, Joe Johnson … Fat Lever? Top 8 NBA “Arkansans” In Statistical Categories

Where does he rank against Sidney, Joe, Derek, Alvin et al? Courtesy Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Where does he rank against Sidney, Joe, Derek, Alvin et al? Courtesy Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Ever wondered how NBA Arkansans stack up against each other in terms of career statistics? Wonder no more: below is the first and only comprehensive list including both native Arkansans and non-natives who played college ball in Arkansas.

You’ll notice Scottie Pippen is the only player in each Top 8 list, followed by Alvin Robertson – who ranks in all categories except rebounds and blocks per game.

For fun, I’ve boldfaced the non-natives who played college ball in Arkansas. They are all Razorbacks.

STEALS

This, by far, is the category in which NBA Arkansans excel the most. Three of the top 12 ball thieves in NBA history rep Arkansas by birthplace (Lever), college (Robertson) or both (Pippen).

Total

Per Game

Scottie Pippen

2307

Alvin Robertson

2.71

Alvin Robertson

2112

Fat Lever

2.2

Fat Lever

1666

Scottie Pippen

2.0

Derek Fisher

1282

Michael Conley, Jr.

1.6

Darrell Walker

1090

Darrell Walker

1.51

Michael Cage

1050

Derek Fisher

1.50

Sidney Moncrief

924

Ronnie Brewer

1.29

Joe Johnson

850

Sidney Moncrief

1.2

POINTS

Total

Per Game

Scottie Pippen

18,940

Joe Barry Carroll

17.7

Joe Johnson

15,850

Joe Johnson

17.6

Joe Barry Carroll

12,455

Archie Clark

16.3

Sidney Moncrief

11,931

Scottie Pippen

16.1

Archie Clark

11819

Sidney Moncrief

15.6

Alvin Robertson

10,882

Alvin Robertson

14.0

Caldwell Jones***

10,241

Fat Lever

13.9

REBOUNDS

Total

Per Game

Caldwell Jones***

10,685

Caldwell  Jones

8.2

Michael Cage

8,646

Nathaniel Clifton

8.2

Scottie Pippen

7,494

Wil Jones

7.7

Wil Jones***

5,560

Joe Barry Carroll

7.7

Joe Barry Carroll

5404

Michael Cage

7.6

Fat Lever

4523

Bryant Reeves

6.9

Nathaniel Clifton

4469

Jim Barnes

6.5

Alvin Robertson

4,066

Scottie Pippen

6.4

N.B. Oliver Miller averaged 5.9 rebounds and Alvin Robertson averaged 5.2 in his NBA career. 

*** The Jones brothers’ stats include their seasons in the American Basketball Association, which merged with the NBA in 1976. I list the total of the NBA and ABA statistics. 

ASSISTS

Total

Per Game

Scottie Pippen

6,135

Fat Lever

6.2

Fat Lever

4,523

Mike Conley , Jr.

5.5

Joe Johnson

3,933

Scottie Pippen

5.2

Alvin Robertson

3929

Alvin Robertson

5.0

Derek Fisher

3,640

Archie Clark

4.8

Archie Clark

3498

Darrell Walker

4.6

Darrell Walker

3,276

Joe Johnson

4.4

Sidney Moncrief

2793

Sidney Moncrief

3.6

Read the rest of this entry »


NBA Arkansans In The 2013 Playoffs

This isn’t the best of times for NBA Arkansans.

The playoffs began this weekend with defending champion Miami Heat as the most overwhelming favorite to win it all since the early 2000s Lakers. Back then, Arkansans played pivotal roles on a few title contenders. Little Rock native Derek Fisher, of course, manned the point for Los Angeles, which had to push through powerful Portland teams featuring Scottie Pippen.

A few years later, Corliss Williamson aided the Detroit Pistons’ push to a championship and an injury to Little Rock native Joe Johnson might have been the biggest reason Steve Nash’s run-and-gun Phoenix Suns never made the NBA Finals.

Eight years later, Johnson again finds himself in a supporting role. This time, though, instead of sprinting beside Nash and Amare Stoudemire, he’s jogging with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez on the No. 4 seed Brooklyn Nets. These days, production from Johnson, age 31, is trending downward. This season Johnson averaged 16.3 points on 42.3% shooting – the lowest averages since his second season.

The biggest reason for the drop has been nagging injuries – plantar fasciitis and a quad contusion – since February. Johnson, a six-time All-Star, needs a big playoff series against the No. 5 seed Bulls to give the Nets’ legitimate hope of dethroning Miami. If he’s looking for inspiration, he need look no farther than a series preview which ran in the Chicago Sun-Times.

In it is a position-by-position matchup analysis that pits Johnson, a six-time All-Star who has plenty big-time playoff experience, with Jimmy Butler, a 23-year-old who had played four playoff minutes in his career. The advantage went to Chicago.

By far, the most Arky-fied matchup is in the West, where Junction City native James Anderson and former Razorback Patrick Beverley helped Houston finish the season strong to lock up the eighth seed. Beverley, though, projects to play a much larger role than Anderson against No. 1 Oklahoma City. The 6-1 guard with a 6-7 wingspan joined Houston in January and has proven to be every bit the disruptive defender in the NBA that he was at Arkansas and in Europe. Beverley’s defense of Russell Westbrook is critical to Houston’s upset bid. [The task won’t be easy]

It should be no surprise to Hog fans that P-Bev is the NBA’s second best guard in offensive rebounding rate. In 2007-08, he was Arkansas’ shortest starter yet led the team with 6.6 rebounds a game.

Guards Derek Fisher and Ronnie Brewer are Oklahoma City substitutes. Fisher keeps ticking at age 38 but as his overall numbers continue to dwindle year-by-year it’s apparent he won’t be able to postpone his career’s end much longer. Still, it should not be taken for granted that dude is still playing point guard in the NBA at 38. That in itself is amazing, 33.3% FG shooting be damned.

Brewer, a former Razorback All-American, is a conundrum. He looked like a long-term NBA starter early in his career for the Jazz but in the last three years has bounced between four other teams. These playoffs could determine whether future teams are willing to invest millions more dollars into the 6-7 28-year-old or not.

Brewer’s long-term pro future hinges on his ability to improve his shooting, which has nosedived in the last two seasons. But, realistically, the Thunder don’t need Brewer to shoot even once to prove valuable in these playoffs. His true calling will likely come in a potential Finals rematch with Miami, when he would be summoned from the depths for the most grave task of climbing Mt. Defense. At the summit, above him, will glow LeBron James. Nothing short of a full-fledged living sacrifice will be expected.

“Human pinata” is not the sort of future Hog fans envisioned for Brewer when his career seemed so promising in Utah. Still, there’s no shame in being an NBA Arkansan who is expected to do not-so-big things in the playoffs. Everybody, it appears, is in the same boat.

But just because these guys don’t project to take center court on a national level, they still grab  the spotlight right on this blog.

If Fisher wins a sixth NBA title, he joins Pippen as the NBA Arkansan with the most rings. Where does Fisher rank, though, in other statistical categories?


Stay tuned for Part 2 for a breakdown of the Top 5 NBA Arkansans in each statistical category.

This piece is slated to publish in SYNC magazine.


Joe Johnson, Jannero Pargo At Top of NBA.com’s Best 10 Crossovers of 2012

Former Razorbacks Joe Johnson and Jannero Pargo  finished near the top of the NBA.com’s  Top 10 Crossovers of 2012.

The good friends and one-time teammates at Arkansas and with the Atlanta Hawks find themselves together again, this time for better (in Johnson’s case) and worse (in Pargo’s).

Johnson’s play last month against Boston’s Paul Pierce was selected for the top spot, and will likely go down as the signature highlight of his career. It’s unlike any crossover  before it, like a cobra playing with mongoose on a Twister board.

Johnson Pierce GIF

Pargo shows up at #3, and unfortunately for the 10-year NBA veteran he doesn’t look very good. Orlando’s Jameer Nelson puts Pargo on skates and sends him tumbling nearly out of the frame before rising for a three-pointer (small consolation for the family: Pargo’s brother Jeremy is on the good side of things in clip #4).

I’m sure if Johnson finds out about these rankings, he’ll give Jannero some good-natured ribbing about it.

I doubt Pargo will mind. He seemed like a cool, laid-back cat when I met him last summer at the Clinton Presidential Center before the Hoop Jams fundraiser tournament in Little Rock.

Afterward, I visited Johnson in his high-rise downtown Little Rock apartment to interview him for this SLAM article. I wasn’t too surprised when I found Pargo, along with a couple other of Johnson’s friends, playing NBA Live on Playstation 3. What surprised me, as I recall, is that Pargo was playing as the Atlanta Hawks against the Chicago Bulls, but he didn’t choose to play as himself but instead as Joe Johnson.

Which, I suppose, is a crossover of the metaphysical sort.


Where Darren McFadden, Joe Johnson are the Best in the NFL, NBA

Now, yet another reason to love him.

They share more than Little Rock as a birthplace and Fayetteville as a college destination. They share more than playing for pro teams that use primarily black uniforms. Darren McFadden and Joe Johnson have both staked out turf on top of their respective leagues, not yet in the way they want to – with champagne, commemorative T-shirts and glittering gold – but by leading their leagues in key statistical categories.

To wit, ya’ll:

1) Over the NFL’s last three years, no running back churns out more butter per pass route than D-Mac. That is, McFadden has averaged the league’s most receiving yards per route he runs – whether the ball is thrown to him or not. Here’s the breakdown, per Pro Football Focus:

Rank Player Current Team Rec. Routes YPRR
1 Darren McFadden OAK 906 436 2.08
2 Darren Sproles NO 1924 931 2.07
3 Pierre Thomas NO 1093 537 2.04
4 Arian Foster HOU 1371 724 1.89
5 Ryan Mathews SD 594 314 1.89

This surprising stat is partially explained by Levi Damien, writer for the Raiders blog Silver and Black Pride:

McFadden’s numbers depended on “having a quarterback who is more likely to throw to a running back running a route. The Raiders had Jason Campbell behind center for a season and a half and he was well known for his penchant for check downs. That is a strong reason why both McFadden and Bush were on the list for best YPRR. Over 500 of McFadden’s 906 receiving yards came in 2010 alone when Campbell was the starter.” The blog’s author, however, believes while new Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer is more of a drop-back threat the Raiders will still employ plenty of running back routes to keep these players’ YPRR high.

Read the rest of this entry »


Ruminations on Joe Johnson and Failure

Little Rock native Joe Johnson isn’t quite the superstar we wanted him to be.

For these last few painful springs, I wanted Joe Johnson to be Michael Jordan.

At times, it seemed like he was off to a pretty good start – better than most of us. The man has started in an All-Star game.  He has thrown up multiple 30 point+ games in the playoffs, and even cracked the 25 ppg average in 2007.  He’d steadily improved in each of the six seasons before that.

All Joe had to do was keep improving, just a little bit per year, and by now he would have even eclipsed M.J.

But Joe didn’t keep improving. In fact, his production has just as steadily tailed off in the last five years. And while he’s still been good enough to be a six-time All-Star, he’s also been widely disparaged for not playing like a 12-time All-NBAer.

This was never more evident than on Thursday night in Boston.  All Joe had to do was channel a little M.J., and the Hawks would be on their way back to Atlanta for Game 7 with all the momentum in the world on their side. A win there and the next opponent, Philadelphia, would present the Johnson-era Hawk’s best opportunity yet to make the Eastern Conference Finals.

For the most part, Joe spread the ball around in the close-fought fourth quarter. He allowed young guns Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jeff Teague to take the lion’s share of the shots that brought the Hawks back. Still, Joe had his chances. He missed a six-foot hook shot with 6:18 left; with a minute left, the Hawks clinging to a one-point lead, he crossed up seven-footer Ryan Hollins and fired up the kind of long jumper with which M.J. made a living plunging through the heart of opponents. It clanged off the back of the rim.

Joe had another chance to get his superstar on with a little more than nine seconds to go,  his team down 81-79. From the wing, he crossed up Paul Pierce and sort of blew by him. But there wasn’t much separation. And as Johnson tried to explode to the basket,  to flush the ball home or at least draw a foul,  he simply could not get his Jumpman sneakers high enough off the ground.

Pierce swatted the ball out of bounds, and Joe wouldn’t have another chance to redeem himself as the last few seconds of the Hawks’ season ticked away.

It kills me that my high school classmate can’t help get his Hawks over the hump, that his legacy is slowly becoming defined by coming up short. That he’ll soon be 31 years old, and if hasn’t been M.J. for a spring by now, he probably never will.

But, really, none of us get to taste what it’s like to be the best in the world at what we do. We may try our very best for years, but at some point reality swallows up that dream and leaves us with an irksome, possibly painful, realization that our future is limited. Granted – none of us will be paid like a Joe Johnson relative to our chosen profession. But deep down inside, we know he represents the absolute ceiling on the kind of success we can realistically aspire to.

There shouldn’t be shame in failing to channel Jordan. In fact, I now realize that shouldn’t even be the goal. If it’s a title Joe wants, then it’s the right mix of teammates he needs. As he figures out where and how he wants his career to end, he should aim to be the next Paul Pierce.


Clash of the Titans: Vote who wins a Tourney Between the Best teams in State History


The Readers’ Choice Edition

  This weekend, Arkansas’ hoops cognoscenti will descend on Hot Springs for the state high school championships. There, in Summit Arena, teams from each corner of the state will vie for the right to be called the best in 2011-12. Every few years, though, a team is so strong that its on-court competition simply isn’t stout enough to give a serious challenge. When that happens, the team ends up battling history instead, as its coach and fans stake a claim to being the best in state history.

What would happen if the top prep teams in Arkansas history actually met on the court to decide once and for all who truly is the best of all-time? If guys like Derek Fisher, Ron Brewer and Joe Johnson were magically transported to their 17-year-old bodies, and once again wore Patriots, Grizzlies or Tigers gear? It would be like Field of Dreams, but indoors and without so much corn.

I wasn’t able to summon otherworldly powers to actually make this happen, but I did the next best thing: talked to coaches and journalists who saw most of these teams play. With their insight, I created a list of contenders for the title of an all-time hypothetical tourney.

As you’d expect, it’s required that each entry won a state title. Some older teams actually won a couple state titles in the same year. After winning the state tournament against similar-sized schools, the team then tackled the winners of other classifications in a now-defunct “overall” state tournament that ran 1972-1992.

For the sake of simplicity, all teams play under modern rules. This means some of the older teams who’ve never seen a three-point arc will have to figure out on the fly how to defend three-point shots, or get accustomed to seeing crossover dribbles that decades before would have been deemed traveling violations. Admittedly, this gives the modern teams an advantage over the older teams. Although I would counter those older player have a built-in stamina advantage, given many claim to have walked  to school uphill both ways.

I realize rule changes and differing styles of play make it extremely difficult to compare teams from different eras, but it’s better to have fun trying than never attempt at all.

You’ll likely disagree with some of my SYNC magazine picks [0307sportschart] for who who’d win different matchup in a single-elimination, all-time 8-team tournament. I welcome that debate. It’s all part of the fun.  But on this blog, I’m no longer playing God. It’s time you decide who would win in the first round of an all-time tournament among twelve of the state’s top teams. Below are the eight teams out of those top dozen which don’t get a first-round bye:

1958-59 Scipio A. Jones (North Little Rock)  
Final Record: N/A (3 losses, all to Pearl High, a Memphis powerhouse)
Stars: Eddie Miles (6-5), James Nash, Theodore Hines
Coach: Arthur Calvin
Seniors won  four consecutive all-black schools state titles; made finals of 1959 national tournament  for all-black schools, lost to Pearl High in triple-overtime

2008-09  Fayetteville
Final Record: 30-0
Stars: Fred Gulley (6-1 guard), Cable Hogue (6-7 forward), Taylor Cochran (6-2 guard)
Coach: Barry Gephart
Finished season ranked No.8 in nation by Sports Ilustrated

1953-54 Jonesboro
Final Record: 34-0
Stars: Larry Grisham (6-3 power forward), Ralph Childs (5-11 point guard), Don Riggs
Coach: Troy Bledsoe
Averaged 77 points in first three state tourney games, a state record at the time
1998-99 Little Rock Central
Final Record: 29-3 (Joe Johnson sidelined during only in-state loss)
Stars: Joe Johnson (6-7 “point center”), Hart (6-3 forward), Mark Green (6-2 guard)
Coach: Oliver Fitzpatrick
Won four state tournament games by record-setting average of 43.5 points
2003-04 West Memphis
Final Record: 27-2
Stars: Sonny Weems (6-6 forward), Des McCoy (6-5 forward), Mark Mangum (5-9 guard)
Coach: Larry Bray
Didn’t lose after Thanksgiving weekend, average margin of victory = 23.4

1999-00 Little Rock Fair
Final Record: 31-0
Stars: Kim Adams (6-7 center) Dameon Ashford (5-11 guard), Anthony Rogers
Coach: Charlie Johnson
Opponents averaged around 40 points a game, roster included 14 seniors

1983-84 Little Rock Hall
Final Record: 27-4
Stars: Tim Scott (6-3), Allie Freeman (6-2 guard)
Coach: Oliver Elders
Elders said this team, the last of four consecutive state title winners, was the best he ever had

1974-75 Little Rock Central
Final Record: 27-1
Stars: Robert Griffin (6-2 guard), Barry Clark (6-7 forward), Houston Nutt (6-2 guard)
Coach: Eddie Boone
Defeated Sidney Moncrief’s Hall High warriors en route to overall championship

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