Thursday, June 4, 2015

Trade Target: Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson - SF - 6'7, 240
Brooklyn Nets - 1 year, $24.9 million remaining
34 years old

Joe Johnson was the subject of some Pistons-focused trade talk at the 2015 trade deadline, as he was mentioned as a clear upgrade on the team's other options at SF.  Though it appeared the talks were legitimate, nothing materialized, and Johnson would help the Nets to the 8th-seed in the Eastern Conference, and a quick dismissal in the first round of the playoffs.  While Johnson would still present a clear upgrade on what the Pistons have had at the SF position over the past few years, his enormous contract and declining skill-set make him a questionable target.  It's been about five years since Johnson has even played in the same realm as his contract.  Nonetheless, he's a name that some Pistons fans bring up when trade targets at the SF position are discussed, so let's look at the specifics of potentially trading for Joe Johnson.



Joe Johnson
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3PAr
3P%
AST%
TRB%
FTr
FT%
DRtg
2013-14
15.8
15.5
22.3%
56.4%
.397
40.1%
15.0%
6.3%
.192
81.5%
112
2014-15
14.4
14.1
20.3%
52.3%
.329
35.9%
17.1%
7.7%
.172
80.1%
110
Career
17.3
16.0
23.2%
53.0%
.291
37.1%
20.3%
6.5%
.202
80.0%
110

While it would be nice to have the raw production of Johnson at the SF position considering what the Pistons have received there the last few years, Johnson is far from an efficient offensive option.  For a player of his size and build, Johnson makes stunningly few trips to the FT line, instead settling for mid/long-range jumpers (approx. 63% of FGA come from >10 ft from basket in 2014-15) that produce less than optimal results.  While he has a fairly reliable outside shot, Johnson has the physical attributes of a player who should thrive going towards the basket.  He usually converts fine at the rim (59.6% and 70.5% within 3 ft in last two seasons), it's just a matter of generating those high quality looks more often.  At age 34, it would be shocking to see Johnson become more aggressive; don't count on him taking advantage of more efficient options next year.  While his shot selection is troubling, Johnson is a solid playmaker, pairing a solid Assist Rate with a generally low-ish Turnover Rate.  I don't buy into Johnson as a "good" scorer, but his playmaking abilities on the wings would be a very welcomed addition to the Pistons' offense.

For a little bit more on why I don't see value in Johnson as a main scoring option, take a look at his offensive play-type statistics:

Joe Johnson
Possessions
Pts. per Poss.
NBA Rank
Isolation
194
0.82
43/58
PnR Ball-Handler
261
0.80
35/56
Post-Up
198
0.89
19/53
Spot-Up
275
1.13
13/52
Cut
128
1.09
41/55

That's a portrait of a guy who gets used a lot on offense to the tune of mediocre-to-middling results.  The only areas where Johnson really outperforms the majority of his peers who use as many or more possessions in each category, is in spot-up and post-up situations.  While it would be nice to add another post option to an offense set to lose its best post scorer in Greg Monroe, the rest of Johnson's game is pretty uninspiring for someone who commands the ball as much as he does.  His spot-up offense would be good to have as well, but guys who can space the floor generally come cheaper than Johnson's price tag of $24.9 million.  His isolation and pick-and-roll offense are underwhelming, and his below-average PPP on cut possessions speaks to what was said above about Johnson not taking advantage of his large frame.

Defensively, the play-type statistics are much kinder to Johnson, who succeeds in just about anything that isn't isolation defense:

Joe Johnson
Possessions
PPP Allowed
NBA Rank
Isolation
77
1.06
66/68
PnR Ball-Handler
124
0.68
11/121
Post-Up
50
0.72
16/154
Spot-Up
309
0.83
3/51
While it's concerning that Johnson ceded over a full point per possession in what is generally a low efficiency play, everything else looks really solid.  You would expect Johnson to hold his own in the post thanks to his size, which holds true.  It's a bit more surprising to see a guy his size and age be so good at defending in spot-up situations.  Johnson isn't exactly the athlete he used to be, which you would think leads to a decreased ability to close out.  That didn't appear to be the case for Johnson in 2014-15.  The Pistons could use a defensive upgrade at SF for the coming season; while Johnson isn't really a conventional answer, it appears that he could offer something on that end of the floor.

While Johnson certainly doesn't play up to his pay grade or at the level that he used to, he could add something to the Pistons roster in 2015-16 that they don't currently have.  He would be a clear upgrade from the 2014-15 rotation at SF of Kyle Singler/Caron Butler/Tayshaun Prince, but would it be worth the opportunity cost of forfeiting a large portion of their cap space, and minutes that could go to developing a younger player?  While it would be nice to be more competitive next year, I'm 100% sure that nearly 200 possessions of isolation Joe Johnson isn't the best way to develop Andre Drummond, KCP and Reggie Jackson as a core.  While all of that stuff is relevant, any trade is measured by what it's going to cost you to improve the quality of your assets.  The Nets could look to move Johnson if they think they can improve the depth of a roster they have few other avenues to improve.  With a late 1st round pick and no cap space, the Nets have to be creative this summer.  They aren't set to make their own first round pick for the next 100 years, so they absolutely have to try and be competitive every season.  Moving Johnson could open up the team's options, assuming they try and repackage some of the assets they receive for more useful pieces.

Assuming a deal were to take place at the open of free agency, the Pistons could have enough cap space to acquire Johnson outright if they renounce their rights to all of their pending free agents and cut loose non-guaranteed money in the form of Caron Butler and Shawne Williams.  While Johnson's value isn't immense, it's still hard to see the Nets cutting him loose for only one season of cap relief.  Here's what the most simple option of trading for Joe Johnson might look like for the Pistons:

Pistons receive: Joe Johnson
Nets receive: Brandon Jennings, Cartier Martin, Caron Butler, Shawne Williams

Cartier Martin has already made it clear that he'll be exercising his player option for the 2015-16 season, which is a must for this version of the trade to work.  The Pistons turn an expendable piece in Jennings and three non-factor contracts into their starting SF for the season.  The Nets shave $9 million off of their cap figure and almost certainly waive the non-guaranteed deals of Butler and Williams.  That equates to a real savings of about $14.7 million.  Jennings could function in the Nets' backcourt at both G spots, assuming he's healthy, without Brooklyn having to add years onto Johnson's deal.

Any deal for Johnson this summer would almost have to include Jennings.  If not, the Pistons would be sacrificing 100% of their cap space, as they don't have any other big contracts on the books to deal.  If the Nets get picky, I'd be willing to throw them a playoffs-protected future 2nd rounder or two.  Beyond that, you would have a hard time convincing me that future assets are worth the 34-year old Johnson and his devalued game.

If you want to get a little bit more complicated and work a third team in, you could find somebody who may be willing to take on Jennings for the year and get Brooklyn a player who can fill the hole that would be left at SF in Johnson's absence.  You're looking for one of two kinds of teams if a third team is needed to facilitate Jennings and his contract: either a team who expects to have a hard time reaching the cap floor, or a team desperate to add to their depth in the backcourt who can't do so in free agency.  The team that fits the first billing is the 76ers, who claimed JaVale McGee last season just so they could avoid paying the penalty for not hitting the league's salary floor.  A deal that includes the Sixers could look as follows:

Pistons receive: Joe Johnson
Nets receive: Hollis Thompson, Cartier Martin, Caron Butler, Shawne Williams
Sixers receive: Brandon Jennings, Markel Brown, 2017 BOS 2nd round pick via BKN

The Sixers have to be compensated for taking on Jennings and giving the Nets the floor-spacing wing they might want.  They get that in the form of a 2nd rounder and a young player in Markel Brown.  Brooklyn pays the additional price here for not wanting to take on Jennings to match salaries.  Philadelphia isn't using their cap space this summer anyways, and they could turn Jennings into something down the line if he proves his health.  From the Pistons' perspective, the frame of this deal is the same as the first. 

If it doesn't seem like the Pistons would be giving up much to get Johnson above, that's exactly the way I designed it.  As far as future assets go, I don't see any reason to sacrifice potential for one year of Johnson's bloated contract and a complete destruction of this summer's cap space.   Any deal that includes the Pistons giving up Dinwiddie or picks or anything of that nature just doesn't make sense.  While Johnson would clearly represent an upgrade for the Pistons at the SF spot, trading anything of value for him would be the kind of short-sighted move this franchise can't afford at this point in the development of their core of Drummond, Jackson and (maybe) KCP and whoever the 8th pick is.  The Nets may not be interested in moving Johnson for so little in tangible assets in return, and if that's the case, expect this summer to come and go like the trade deadline did, with Johnson on the Nets' roster for the remainder of his contract.  That may just be what's best for the Pistons anyways.

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