Scoff, if you will, at the BIG3 basketball league’s half-court set-up, four-point shots and first-to-50 scoring rules.
Its style is far from mainstream. But regardless of what you think about the barnstorming three-on-three brainchild of Ice Cube, now in its third season, there’s no denying its talent is second to one.
And on Thursday, for the first time, one of the BIG3’s stars will return to the NBA on the strength of his performance in the half court setting. Former Arkansas great Joe Johnson has signed a partially guaranteed one-year deal with the Detroit Pistons, multiple news outlets reported.
The Pistons aren’t as sexy as some other contending teams who gave him serious looks like Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Brooklyn, but Johnson does project to play more in Detroit.
The Pistons are in serious need of small forward depth behind starter Tony Snell. Only wings Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Sekou Doumbouya (try saying those names five times in a row) have guaranteed contracts behind Snell.
Johnson was an offensive juggernaut in the BIG3, won MVP and shattered a few records. He led the league in scoring at 21.9 per game (in games that finished at 50 points). He also shot 48.5 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3-point range. The year before, Johnson had struggled in the NBA, but he was also dealing with a mother dying from cancer at that point.
He projects to be versatile, effective player for the Pistons, assuming he can beat out youngster Christian Wood for the 15th roster spot. (The Pistons can sign a max of 20 players. It cuts those down to 15 in October. Younger players can go to the G-League, but don’t expect Johnson to do that.)
Instead, Johnson should make the cut and become a steadying hand for a young, hungry squad that finished at .500 last season.
“For his career, he’s hit 40.6 percent on corner 3-point attempts,” wrote Aaron Ferguson of Piston Powered. “He’d likely flow well within the Pistons offense if Derrick Rose or Luke Kennard ran the offense off the bench. It would also provide insurance if something were to happen with Tony Snell.”
ESPN’s Rachel Nichols and Richard Jefferson discuss the Joe Johnson signing (while Jefferson throws shade at Team USA):
Below is more background about Joe Johnson’s recording setting performance in the BIG3. It’a previously published post:
On a roster by roster basis, only the NBA has higher overall talent than the BIG3. Even the Euroleague*, widely regarded as the world’s second-best league, doesn’t have so many former NBA All-Stars playing in its ranks.
Amar’e Stoudamire, Gilbert Arenas, Jermaine O’Neal, Carlos Boozer and Rashard Lewis are some of the former All-Stars playing in this year’s BIG3, along with recent-ish NBA standouts like Jason Terry, Al Jefferson and Josh Smith.
None of them have stood a chance when matched up against Joe Johnson.
The former Razorback, a seven-time NBA All-Star in his own right, has torched the league this summer while leading his “Triplets” team to the top of the rankings.
His 175 regular season points breaks Rashard Lewis’ previous all-time league record of 170 set in 2017. Perhaps the most impressive of them came on the step-back four-pointer he hit to beat Rashard Lewis’ team last week. Step backs into 30-foot shots take prime-time strength and coordination, and it’s clear the 6’8″, 230-pound Johnson still has both.
The game-winning sequence starts at the 9:00 mark:
Johnson’s averaging 21.9 points a game in games that end whenever the first team reaches 50 points. Seven out of eight times, that’s happened with his team on top. Look at the separation between his Triplets and the rest of the league after the regular season finished this weekend:
Joe Johnson has established himself as the BIG3 MVP frontrunner by finishing at or near the top of other major categories, too.
- Joe Johnson (30)
- Franklin Session (28)
- DeShawn Stevenson (25)
- Royce White (21)
- Mike Bibby
- David Hawkins (12)
- Joe Johnson (9)
- Glen Davis (7)
- Ricky Davis (7)
- Jason Richardson (7)
- Reggie Evans (88)
- Will McDonald (64)
- Josh Smith (60)
- Andre Emmett 59
- Joe Johnson (58)
- Joe Johnson (4)
- Mario Chalmers (2)
- Mike Taylor (2)
With production like this, it’s clear the Little Rock native has found his groove in the world’s top three-on-three league.
And it’s not like he’s here, balling out with teammates like Al Jefferson and former Hog Teddy Gipson, because he’s hard up on cash.
“He brought in $215 million in his NBA career, thanks to a contract that made him one of the five highest-paid players in the league from 2012 to 2015 even though … uh, he was not one of the five best players in the league during that span,” wrote the Ringer’s Rodger Sherman wrote in an article entitled “Joe Johnson is the BIG3’s First God.”
Maybe all this success does eventually open up a way for Johnson, who last played NBA ball for the Houston Rockets in 2018, to return to that most talented league. Maybe it doesn’t.
Based on his real reasons for playing in the BIG3, it won’t matter either way.
“I still love the game. Even before these games, I still get butterflies in my stomach. I know that if I can still have that, then I’m not done.”
“And my kids keep me in shape. My son’s 12, so me and him are always playing one on one. I love the passion for the game. I don’t think it will ever go.”-Joe Johnson
*Arkansans rep hard in these top tier leagues. Marcus Brown, a West Memphis native, in 2011 became the Euroleague’s all-time leading scorer.