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.