Joe Johnson and the All Star Selection Conundrum

JoeJohnson

Joe Johnson is now a 7-time All Star. This is not good.

There were several more deserving candidates for the team, guys like Kyle Lowry, who’s sporting a 20+ PER while hitting 40% of his threes and leading the charge for a resurgent Raptors team, but there are larger problems with Johnson’s selection. Only 75 players, including Johnson and another of this year’s additions, Chris Paul, have ever reached 7 All Star appearances. Of those 75, only 26 aren’t in the Hall of Fame, and the vast majority of those are active players or have not been out of the league long enough to be voted in. Paul, for instance, will definitely be inducted at the first opportunity.

So should Johnson be a Hall of Famer?

He has always been a fringe All Star, even at his best. Each of his selections has come at the hands of the coaches (or whoever actually fills out these ballots for them), and they seem to be disproportionately enamored with him. This may be due to his generally quiet demeanor or an affection for his game, but we’ll never know.

What we do know is what kind of competition Johnson has been up against for these All Star spots. The East has generally been the weaker conference since Johnson was traded from Phoenix to Atlanta, and the dearth of effective shooting guards in the time has been glaring. Aside from Dwyane Wade, there hasn’t been much else in the East for several of the years in which Johnson made the team. Fair enough, the 2nd best 2-guard in the conference deserves to be an All-Star.

Unfortunately All Star appearances can take on a significance in other matters, such as in the Hall of Fame discussion. By most measures, Johnson does not stack up as a Hall of Famer. The highest PER he ever posted for a season was less than 20. Tracy McGrady has had his candidacy called into question and he posted one of the highest of all time, cresting the vaunted 30 mark.

Most other measures are equally pessimistic about Johnson. Don’t get me wrong, he has been a good player, even at (brief) times a great one. His 4th quarter against the Celtics in Game 4 of the 1st round in 2008 still stands out to me as the greatest single performance I have ever witnessed in person. This season he has been bizarrely clutch, and he has been a consistent presence for a Brooklyn Nets team deeply in need of one.

None of that masks the fact that no one honestly believes Johnson should be a Hall of Famer. So if no one is saying it, why the hell am I arguing against his candidacy?

Things tend to look a bit different in hindsight. No one believes that he belongs in the Hall of Fame now, but a few years down the line his resume may start to look a bit more appealing: 7 All Star appearances, best player on a string of solid Hawks’ squads, averaged 22-4-5 over a five year peak, numerous documented (and impressive) clutch moments…this doesn’t sound half bad.

Fortunately we know that those early Hawks’ squads padded his stats by basically having Johnson as the only ball handler/perimeter threat/legitimate NBA player on the roster. And we know that his 7 All Star selections would have been more like 2-3 in the Western Conference during that same period, and that even in the East a couple of the selections (especially this year’s) were dubious at best.

These mitigating factors tend to slip away over time, though, and that’s what makes a seemingly inconsequential All Star selection like this one matter. It’s easy to laugh off Jamaal Magloire’s lone selection as a fluke, but Johnson’s seven could take on a life of their own. I don’t think he will make it in, but if one day we are watching his Hall of Fame speech, know that the flawed All Star selection process helped him get there.

3 thoughts on “Joe Johnson and the All Star Selection Conundrum

  1. Wood says:

    The PER rating has given writers and commentators a chance to be lazy and stop watching the games. The Brooklyn Nets have been gone from afterthought to playoff contention. They have also been one of the leagues best teams in 2014. So why ignore that progress and just give the All star spot to someone in a loaded team like Stephenson? His percentages have been comparable to some players that have already been inducted into the Hall of fame. This article is a stretch sir.

    • Shawn says:

      I’m not arguing in favor of Stephenson – he’s been good, but not better than anyone on the team. Lowry, on the other hand, has been stellar. His shooting percentages are almost identical to Johnson’s, their scoring and rebounding numbers are nearly identical, and every other (per-36 min.) stat is either a wash or in Lowry’s favor:

      If you want to go by team success, Toronto leads the Atlantic Division, and they have been 11-6 in January, nearly as good as Brooklyn (10-3, with two of the losses coming against the Raptors), and Johnson has had less to do with the Nets’ resurgence than Garnett and Pierce returning from the dead. The Nets have certainly been playing well, and Johnson has been a big part of that, but you can’t discount Lowry. The only thing Johnson has in his favor is that he plays in Brooklyn and not Canada.

    • Greg says:

      Also for a guy who was “the only legitimate NBA player on the roster” in Atlanta, he did pretty well getting ATL in the playoffs year after year (and even make it out of the first round a couple of times).
      This years All Star nod was a bit of a stretch though

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