May 8, 2010, 2:30 PM EDT
Joe Johnson has always been better than people have thought he was and never as good as he thought he was. Today is likely to be a significant moment of examination in his career.
Johnson will opt-out this summer and join the greatest free agency class ever, and will likely end up as the best shooting guard available with Dwyane Wade likely to re-sign with Miami. He will be seeking a max contract, which few media members think he deserves. Bulls fans I’ve talked with actually shudder at the thought of giving Johnson that level of money. He’ll be approaching his 30’s and his efficiency has tailed off significantly in Atlanta, as his role in the offense has expanded.
So today is really his big moment to prove he’s worthy of the acclaim and paycheck he seems to think he is, or at least that his supporters think he is.
The Magic dominated the Hawks completely in Game 1, then fought back from a deficit to take Game 2. A loss by the Hawks today in their own building would likely seal the deal on a sweep. Johnson is going to have to take control of his matchup with Vince Carter, go all 2008-Celtics on the Magic and showcase his scoring ability. When Johnson is on, he really is a dominant player. He’s a guy you can put in ISO and say “get us a bucket.” And he’ll get it. When he’s not, he’s a chucker that freezes the offense. If Johnson really wants to hit the next level, he should try and drive and dish to Al Horford and Josh Smith, opening the offense up and showing that he can be versatile. Johnson is a big, tall two-guard, and those are hard to find.
He’s got the body of a three but plays at the two, and his crossover pull-up is as deadly as any player in the league. But he’s got to show he has control over the offense and won’t simply absorb possessions. Some lock down defense on Vince Carter would go a long way as well.
Johnson’s paycheck this summer is unlikely to be effected by today’s game. The market itself will demand a high price for him. But Johnson has a chance to show that he belongs among the league’s best, something he hasn’t done since early in the season on a national stage, really.
This is his moment, and it may be his last as a Hawk. We’ll see what kind of show he gives on his way out.
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