All jokes aside, he’s killing the Raptors.

Perhaps we here at Raptors Republic underrated 7-time All-Star Joe Johnson.

A week before the playoffs started, Zarar and Andrew were asked on an episode of Raptors Weekly, “which Net commands a double-team,” to which Andrew reluctantly answered, “I guess…Joe Johnson? If he’s posting up, it’s more so an issue of size, rather than length, but I’m not that big of a fan of offenses that revolve around posting-up guards. I think this is a team you can play 1-on-1.” Zarar shared similar sentiments.

So, naturally, Johnson has been the one player the Raptors have not been able to stop. Through two games, Johnson is averaging 21 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3 assists per game on 57.6% shooting. He’s been the Nets’ best offensive player by far. The question is — how did we not identify this mis-match?

On one hand, we probably underrated him because of his relatively pedestrian numerical output in the regular season. In 79 games played, Johnson averaged 15.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 32.6 minutes played per game, on an efficient 56.4 TS%. Those numbers are good, but they didn’t exactly scream “DANGER: DURANT AHEAD”.

On the other hand, COUNT THE (All-Star) RINGZZZ.

All jokes aside, Johnson has been fantastic, especially in the post, where his size is the crux of his effectiveness. Weighing in at 6’7, 240 lbs, Johnson has 25 pounds on DeRozan, and over 40 pounds on Ross. When he attacks in the post, no one on the Raptors — save for Fields in brief stretches — has been able to stop him 1-on-1. In Game 1, Johnson overwhelmed Ross and kept him in foul trouble. In Ross’ stead, Casey tried DeMar DeRozan (too small), and John Salmons (t00 terrible to stomach), but to no avail. In fact, Johnson’s post-game was such a problem, that it forced Casey to dust off Landry Fields, who had been rotting away on the bench for months. Fields fared well against Johnson in Game 2 and largely held him in check, as denoted by Blake.

Johnson’s size advantage in the post is two-fold. First, he’s able to catch the ball wherever he wants. By setting up shop in the mid-post, Johnson has the option of backing down his man, turning around for the shot, or firing a pass to the open man. In part, what made Fields’ so successful in Game 2 was the ability to force Johnson to catch the ball outside his favorite spots. The second advantage to his size is obvious. As seen below, Johnson is able to overpower DeRozan, and rise up for an easy shot.

The size mis-match has forced the Raptors into doubling him. That’s also an issue because the Nets have a roster chalked full of shooters. Granted, the Nets are only shooting 11-for-48 (~23%) from deep thus far, but that’s more a product of luck, than scheme as the Nets shoot 37% from deep on the year.

Johnson sets up in the mid-post because it afford him the opportunity to pass. His floor position, combined with his height, affords him a virtual 180 degree plane of passing lanes, which means he can find the open man on the perimeter with a singular pass. This makes closing out much harder because there’s very little time for the Raptors to recover. On the following play, DeRozan floats over for a half-hearted contest. His passivity causes Lowry to hedge towards Livingston (DeRozan’s assignment) which leaves him too late for a closeout on Williams.

Moreover, Johnson has also been successful operating in the pick-and-roll. Over the regular season, Johnson ranked 22nd in points per pick-and-roll as the ball-handler, owing once again to his tremendous size advantage over most 2-guards. However, defending the pick-and-roll — especially the ball-handler — is one of Toronto’s strengths, as they ranked 7th in points allowed per pick-and-roll.

The problem once again boils down to size. Toronto’s pick-and-roll defense numbers look nice, but that’s mostly a testament to Lowry and Johnson’s cohesion in defensive sets. For the most part, Johnson has attacked Toronto where they’re weakest — at the wing, and center.

When he curls, Johnson likes to stay really tight against the screen, and pause momentarily. This subtle move effectively seals the ball-handler defender behind him, and creates a situation where the big has to step up and guard two players at once. Going under the screen is not an option on this play because of Johnson’s shooting ability. If the big doesn’t step up to guard Johnson, he simply rises up for an easy shot.

Conversely, if the big does step up, Johnson has the option of a short pass over to his screener under the basket. The Raptors aren’t able to routinely send help defenders towards this play because the Nets purposefully line up shooters on the weak-side (notice Williams’ position before Johnson’s drive). This keeps the Raptors’ help defender — in this case DeMar DeRozan — at bay along the perimeter.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple solution to this problem.

Playing Fields for an extended period of time isn’t feasible because he essentially clogs the paint. Yes, I hear the commentors chiming in with “but actually, he’s a fantastic cutter”, but let’s get real — he’s not Mariano Rivera. Cuts or no cuts, he kills spacing. In the modern NBA, offenses can’t breathe with two non-floor spacing players on the court at once, unless one of them happens to be a dominant force in the paint. This means Fields can co-exist with either Jonas (post-threat) or Patrick Patterson (floor-spacer) but it leaves Amir Johnson out of the equation, which means the Raptors would simply be trading horses at the corral. Fields is a defensive upgrade on Johnson, but no Amir means Patterson is switched onto Pierce. The Raptors are forced into making a tough choice — they’re giving something up either way.

In all likelihood, the Raptors’ coaching staff sees the quid pro quo, and have made their choice. Johnson can get his within reason, but they’re not conceding open looks for everyone else.

Ultimately, given the Nets’ other weapons on offense, their choice is a wise one. While it’s painful to watch Johnson carve up the defense time and time again, the trade-off is worth the gamble if players like Pierce and Williams become stationary jumpshooters. Quite frankly, for all their wisdom and guile, the Nets operate in a similar way to the Raptors — they’re a perimeter-oriented squad that succeeds by finding the open man amidst the chaos. If they’re going to attack through Joe Johnson every time down the floor, the predictability helps limit chaos, and pins Raptors defenders to where they should be.

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  • Reggie Evans

    minor edit – it’s quid pro quo

    • DDayLewis

      sheeeit. I’ll fix it when I get the chance. Nice catch.

  • DanH

    Complete disagree re: Fields. He should be on him as close to full time as possible. He does not hurt the offense as much as you say, especially with Patterson out there. And Patterson on Pierce is my preferred defender. The only time Pierce has scored effectively on Patterson in the first 2 games was the end of game 1 when Casey left Patman out on the floor for 15 straight minutes to end the game.

    • DDayLewis

      I’m not disagreeing with you on Pierce vs. Patterson, but what about when 2Pat left Pierce wide open from deep in the final minutes of Game 2? (there’s a gif of this play in the pre-game article dropping at 1 PM)

      And like I said in the article, Fields’ presence is masked by Patterson’s, but that takes away Amir Johnson. Now, if Amir is listless, and ineffective on defense, the switch is palatable. However, if he is on his game, subbing out Amir for Fields is just shifting defensive focus from one area of the court to another.

      This article breaks down the importance of spacing rather nicely, through the spectrum of statistical analysis

      • DanH

        I get the importance of spacing. And I’m not advocating 36 minutes for Fields. 26 or so would be good, with Ross and DD picking up JJ for the rest of his 36 ish minutes. Keep in mind that the rest of our perimeter players are all good for spacing (Lowry/Vasquez/Ross all three point threats, DD’s man has to stick to him for other reasons). So playing Fields in any lineup with Patterson has decent spacing. And Patterson can play with Amir at the same time to keep him on the floor – they’ve actually been the most effective big man pairing, as impressive as JV has been individually.

        I just don’t see how Amir being in the game (at C for example) prevents Fields from playing. Amir is not that much of a post threat, but he is moderately effective in both the post and mid-range when uncovered, so I don’t see the issue. Fields and Amir were on the court together for 14 minutes in game 2. In that time, the Raptors outscored the Nets 37 to 25. That’s an ORTG of 137 and a DRTG of 92.6. Extraordinarily small sample size, but even given that, if the Amir/Fields spacing was a big issue, you have to be absolutely floored that they managed to score at that rate even over a sample of about a quarter of a game.

        And, yes, Pierce got open a couple times on Patterson. Patman and Amir both are very help conscious, so no matter who is on him, he’ll occasionally break free for an open shot. But that doesn’t reduce the overall effectiveness both PF’s have had in guarding Pierce.

        • DDayLewis

          FIelds doesn’t necessarily preclude Johnson from playing, but having two of them on the floor at one time is a serious space-killer, and Amir doesn’t necessarily have the ability to impose his will in the post against small defenders. Then again, if iso-Joe is really going off, then playing Fields is not a bad thing.

          The spacing issue basically shuts off one side of the floor. Let’s say you’re running a pick-and-roll on the left side of the floor. Fields can’t line-up on the strongside because his defender will sag off. If he lines up on the weak side, the effect is reduced, but his man can still wait at the edge of the paint, and rotate easily for a shot contest.

          And hey, if they’re able to make it work, that would be great. However, on the surface, I don’t see a reason why it would.

          • DanH

            So, no comment on how effective doing exactly that was in game 2?

            • DDayLewis

              …I did. I addressed why Fields is a liability to spacing, and detailed an example. You yourself admitted that the sample size was extremely small.

              But since you’re prompting me to address his success in particular, I looked at his gameflow chart, and Fields mostly played in two junctures.


              First, across parts of the first and second quarter, Fields mostly played against Brooklyn’s bench while Greivis Vasquez got hot. That was mostly an individual effort on Vasquez’ part, and Brooklyn wasn’t exactly trotting out their best defenders.

              The remainder of Fields’ minutes came in the fourth quarter, when he checked Johnson. As you will recall, it was DeRozan who picked up the torch from Vasquez, and shouldered the offense all by himself.

              There’s the numbers, and the context behind them. When the sample is small, you need to consider context to see why the numbers are what they are.

              • DanH

                Amir and Fields played together for the first stretch of the 2nd Q for about 5 minutes. In that time, Amir scored 4 points, Patterson scored 2 points, Vasquez hit one 3, and DD scored 5 points. That’s 14 points in 5:10 (130 PPG pace), from 4 different scorers. Brooklyn scored 5 points with their bench unit in that time (bench unit included such lacklustre defenders as Anderson, AK47, Livingston, Pierce and Johnson, as well as a spattering of Plumlee, Blatche, Thornton). Vasquez getting hot doesn’t seem to explain that run (nor DD, as he missed 3 of his 4 jumpers in that stretch), in spite of that being the description you chose.

                The only other stretch in which Johnson and Fields played for more than a minute or two is the end of the game. In that stretch, Lowry scored 6 points, JV scored 2, Patterson hit 1 of 2 from the line (on an offensive set foul, not an end of game foul), and DD scored 4 (and turned it over once) before the end of game fouling occurred. In that stretch, prior to the fouling starting, the opposition was basically all starters for the Nets (plus AK), and they scored 12 points. Again, 4 different scoring players over that 6 minute stretch (104 PPG pace) with Fields and Amir on the floor, playing against the best the Nets can offer.

                I am considering context. You “context” above seems to be based largely on the time Fields spent AWAY from Amir, rather than with him.

  • Rapsfan

    Game day is finally here. Joe is killing us derozen needs to dig deep n play some D but I still think the raptors win tonight

  • arsenalist

    The issue with Johnson and DeRozan is the ‘catch’. If DeRozan is pressured on the initial catch, he tends to get bothered, moves away from the rim, and has to reset himself to make whatever move he’s making. Full marks to him though for draining those shots in crunch time in Game 2, but it doesn’t make for a good start to the move/possession.

    With Johnson, the same technique can be applied. If his initial catch is further out, like Fields forced him to do, he’s already out of his comfort zone in the post-up, and now operating in a face-up situation further out. If I’m Casey, I’m not necessarily focused on double-teaming Johnson when he’s in the post-up because he’s a decent passer out of it, I’m pressuring him on the initial catch near the three-point line, in the hopes that he has to make a pressure-release pass rather than a pass that picks out a shooter, thus slowing their possession down.

    • DDayLewis

      But can DeRozan effectively push Johnson out? I’m sure the coaching staff has advised him to do so, but for the most part, DeMar hasn’t done anything to slow down Joe. Maybe he’s just too big (insert joke here)

      • arsenalist

        I’m not suggesting DeRozan be the guy guarding Johnson, anyone as rail-thin as DeRozan or Ross have little chance, maybe Ross can push him out further on account of his reach/activeness, but neither are great. I would rather even Amir check JJ and DD check Pierce to at least test how that goes.

        • DanH

          You run a risk there of the Nets running a bunch of screens for JJ. Last thing I want is him getting hot from 3 because Johnson can’t keep up – remember, Amir and Patman are doing OK, not great, at keeping Paul Pierce from getting open for 3. JJ is not fast, but he’s much faster than Pierce.

          Especially with such an easy answer in Fields.

          • arsenalist

            Yeah, I agree. Fields is best suited (or maybe Salmons if he can be bothered). Issue with Fields is that we’d be playing 4-v-5 on offense. If Casey feels he can’t afford that, then the scenario I described could help. Overall, yes, if Fields can hold his own defensively, cut to the basket, get some easy hoops and get a few offensive rebounds here and there, that would be ideal.

            • DanH

              Really not seeing this whole “Fields hurts the offense” bit. Game 2, Raps scored 114 PPCP with Fields on the floor, while allowing 94. Without him, they scored 118 PPCP while allowing 122. Not much of an offensive drop off, and certainly not indicative of playing “4-v-5”.

              • DDayLewis

                See comment below.

              • arsenalist

                I really hate those kinds of stats. DD hit some ridiculous shots with Fields on the floor and that’s why those numbers are the way they are. The increased offense had nothing to do with Fields being on.

                Look at it this way: if you have to bench Patterson or Ross to play Fields, are you seriously telling me it’s not an offensive drop-off?

                • DanH

                  Yes, I am. Or not much of one. Just look at the detailed breakdown I did below – it was NOT a case of DD just hitting tough shots. The team as a whole was very effective with Fields on the court with Amir, in both stretches they played together.

                • DanH

                  Oh, and I’m not saying to bench anyone. I’m saying to distribute the minutes a) more evenly and b) so that Fields is guarding JJ as much as possible and DD and Ross can match up against smaller players like Livingston, Anderson, and the not-small but not-an-offensive-threat AK47. Certainly I’m not calling to decrease Patterson’s minutes – increase if anything.

        • DDayLewis

          Yeah I agree with DanH below. I can’t imagine Amir fighting overtop of screens to guard Johnson in the pick-and-roll.

    • DD

      When I watch DeRozan cover Johnson, he’s very lazy. he lets JJ walk to his spot and then just lets him get the enrty pass before he starts bodying him.

      DeRozan (or Ross) needs to deny JJ the ball. Make him work a little harder to get position. Push him a little before gets set and DWill is ready to make that entry pass. And then even if/when he gets position, deny the pass. Get your hand in the passing lane! Make Johnson step to the pass to ensure its not tipped… forcing him another step out.

      Basically make him work for every inch.
      This will take a lot out of DeRozan, but it will also make Johnson work a lot harder too. And I have to assume he’s in better shape than Johnson as well.

  • Rapchat

    Check out the F@@K BROOKLYN promo I just cut!!! Heavy rotation all day (good beats)…

  • KJ-B

    C’mon guys, I know it’s fun to break things down like we actually work in the league but this is hilarious! Joe Johnson’s been doing this for nearly 15 years in the League. He’s an All Pro because what he does is unstoppable by other All Pros.

    Can only hope to contain. Unless the Raps send 3 guys his way and leave Paul Pierce, Mirza, Deron & Co in single or no coverage we’re not shutting down Joe Cool.
    Dennis Rodman is not working through that door. In fact Toronto should play zone, let Joe get his and stifle the rest of Brooklyn to win.

    • DDayLewis

      The Raptors should play zone against one of the league’s best three-point shooting teams.

      C’mon guy.

    • DD

      He is a vet, but he’s hardly “unstoppable”
      Triple team Johnson?!! that just crazy!
      And the Nets would love us to play zone… they are only the leagues best 3-pt shooting team. (oops.. just noticed DDayLewis made this point already)

      Fields did a pretty good job for that 2nd have and he’s not even that great a defender. He has a bit more size than DeRozan, but he works hard on the defensive end.
      Johnson will get his shots, but make him work for it.

  • louvensremy

    The reason Slo mo Joe is tough to guard apart from his skill set is because the Nets perimeter players incl Pierce provide match up problems elsewhere. Derozan can’t get help on the double team bc u can’t effectively leave anyone open. All of the perimeter players are the same size and length and that cause problems elsewhere. Also DD is pretty bad on D bc he’s flat footed and his feet point out wards.

  • Tom

    I checked Patrick Patterson and Joe Johnson’s pre-draft measurements. Apparently Patterson was faster and quicker than Johnson (and that was before Johnson got really old). He’s also bigger.

    It seems strange, since Patterson is a PF, and Johnson was a SG until recently, but I think Patterson can guard Johnson. He can also provide floor spacing on offense.

    Patterson/Amir/Jonas would be a frightening front-court. They would absolutely crush the Nets starters on the glass. The paint would become a treacherous place for Nets players.

    Name Height w/o Shoes Height w/shoes Weight Wingspan Reach Body Fat Hand Length Hand Width No Step Vert No Step Vert Reach Max Vert Max Vert Reach Bench Agility Sprint Rank Drafted
    Joe Johnson – 2001 6′ 6.75″ 6′ 8.25″ 226 6′ 9″ 8′ 9″ NA 0 0 32.5 11′ 5.5″ 36.5 11′ 9.5″ 12 12.05 3.4 44 10
    Patrick Patterson – 2010 6′ 8″ 6′ 9.25″ 240 7′ 1.25″ 8′ 11″ 5.3 9.25 10.25 28.5 11′ 3.5″ 33.5 11′ 8.5″ 17 11.14 3.25 NA 11

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