Joe Johnson is going to make the Detroit Pistons final roster. There, I said it. An avowed Christian Wood fan, I can admit when I’ve been beat, and I see clearly that the organization has much bigger plans for Johnson the veteran presence than for Wood, intriguing NBA vagabond and crucial big man depth.
There, I already feel better.
Now that I’m in the acceptance stage it is important to ask what Johnson needs to provide for his new Motown teammates that will make the investment in the 38-year-old veteran worth it.
Of course that means he has to, you know, hit shots. Which he has done at various points throughout his career, including as recently as 2016-17 when he had a solid season with the Utah Jazz. But I wanted to dig a little deeper when thinking about one thing that would truly set Johnson apart and give him a defined and vital role for the Pistons off the bench — pass the ball.
While Johnson spent his prolific career known as a dangerous scorer, particularly in isolation, when he was at his best he was practically another point guard on the floor. Johnson’s days of running the offense and a sky-high usage rate is long gone, but if he can be an adept passer and secondary facilitator for the Pistons, he will do wonders for Detroit’s bench unit.
Johnson can’t simply be relied on to back down his man and score from the mid-range. Part of being a veteran presence is being a steadying presence; knowing what to do with the ball when things tighten up and the offense starts to stagnate.
When he started his string of All-Star appearances, he was averaging close to five assists per 36 minutes. In his ... ahem ... old age, that dipped down to below three per game.
The bench unit looks like it will have perimeter scoring with Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway, and someone to attack the rim with Derrick Rose. Thee will be a stretch big with a mid-range game in Markieff Morris. There will be Thon Maker, I guess!
Rose will have the ball in his hands every time down the floor and be primarily responsible for running the bench brigade. But Rose is an attack dog. His job is to get down hill and force the action. Johnson, on the other hand, can slow the pace down and probe the situation.
Johnson likely can’t do much in the way of blowing by small forwards on the perimeter, but if he finds himself at power forward, he will be able to use his natural facilitation skills to hit cutters or find a Kennard, Morris or Maker on the perimeter. He could be used in some pick-and-roll action with Rose or Kennard to get the offense moving and open up driving lines and prevent what Pistons fans have seen a lot of for the past few years — an endless series of passes along the perimeter amounting to nothing.
A true shooting percentage of 54% combined with an assist percentage of around 19%, or about 4+ per 36 minutes, and Johnson will be providing the offense punch, and, yes, that veteran presence that Stefanski and Dwane Casey seem so convinced the team needs.