Will the Rockets Need Joe Johnson During the 2018 Playoffs?

Joe Johnson

Against Golden State, There is One Matchup In Which He Could Be Deployed

On February 8, a Utah father — known in the Twittersphere simply as “Kerwin” — informed his daughter they would go to a Jazz game the next day. The five year old’s face brightened.

Then he dropped the bad news: “Joe Johnson does not play for the Jazz anymore.”

The lil’ diehard’s face contorted into pure anguish. Tears began streaming down her cheeks. “He got traded today,” Kerwin continued. “[Ricky] Rubio is still on the team. Joe Johnson is not on the team.” A cry, not unlike that of a grieving mini-mother, punctured the air.

Joe Johnson eventually ended up on the Houston Rockets, and it’s unlikely any Texan children will shed many tears when Joe Johnson eventually leaves/retires from his new team. Johnson played less than a season for the Jazz, but that year was an eventful one for the 36-year-old veteran. He won the hearts of many Jazz fans, for instance, with a shot that knocked out Chris Paul and Paul’s former team, the Clippers, in the first round of the 2017 playoffs. Despite advanced basketball age, Joe Johnson was still “Joe Jesus” — the man who’d hit eight buzzer beaters in 11 seasons.

No question, when Joe Johnson signed with Houston, he knew his role would diminish. The Rockets are stacked at his forward positions with the likes of Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ryan Anderson, PJ Tucker and Gerald Green. Houston won an NBA-best 65 games in the regular season, and are 8-2 so far in these playoffs. They just wiped out the Jazz in five games and when it comes to the upcoming cataclysmic showdown with defending champ Golden State, expect Game 1 betting odds at Stakers to be tight.

Earlier this spring, Joe Johnson did get some burn with the Rockets. In February, he averaged 24.7 minutes a game, 7.1 points and 2.8 rebounds. That declined to 21.9 minutes and 6.6 points in March, but nosedived to 17.6 minute, 4 points and 2.7 rebounds in April. He has hardly gotten off the bench in these playoffs.

Much of this has to do with Mbah Moute and Ryan Anderson were injured earlier in the spring, but have since returned. “Now that we’ve got everybody healthy, it makes it a little bit tougher to find room for everybody,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni told the Deseret News. “But [Johnson]’s been steady, and I have more than enough confidence in him that if we get in any kind of problem he’ll take care of it and I’ll go to him and won’t think twice about it, but he’s been great. He’s good to have on the team at any age.”

But the Rockets actually need Joe Johnson against Golden State? In most scenarios, likely no. Defensive quickness is necessary to beat Golden State, and Ariza, Tucker, Green and Moute are all quicker than Johnson at his age. So expect them to get the lion’s share of minutes. Still, Johnson is bigger and stronger than most of those guys (equally strong as Tucker, but taller). So, at 6’8,” he could match up well against the Warriors’ 6’8” David West, a savvy, powerful force inside. If West gives Moute/Tucker/Green trouble down low and/or they are struggling badly from three-point range, it would not be surprising to see D’Antonio give Johnson some minutes.

Against his former team, though, Johnson’s number was barely called. The fact he logged only four minutes all series speaks to the outsanding depth and firepower this Houston team delivers. Indeed, the biggest splash Johnson made all series was telling the Utah reporters that some of his former Jazz teammates still “owe me some bread.”

I doubt Joe Johnson worries much about minutes anymore, though. If he was the kind of player who did, he wouldn’t have last in the league 16 seasons and counting. He knows he’s only eight wins away from his first NBA title. He knows he’d get the same championship ring as Houston’s starters, and never-ending respect it would bring, whether he plays another minute this season or not.

But there’s another silver lining in all this.

Recall the aforementioned five year old. If she was that sad when she heard her favorite player was traded away, can you imagine how devastated she would be if he came back in the playoffs, got major minutes and personally destroyed her beloved Jazz? The pain would be unimaginable.

So, thank you, Mike D’Antoni, for preventing more heartbreaking Tweets from Jazz fans everywhere.


For more on Joe Johnson, my classmate at Little Rock Central High, go here.

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