Joe Johnson may not get the credit he deserves with the Brooklyn Nets, but his consistency cannot be questioned. Since signing his enormous contract in 2010, making him currently the third-highest paid player in the NBA, Johnson has received criticism for not playing up to the expectations associated with his contract. Clearly he is not the third best player in the league, but Johnson does what you expect from a big-time scorer. Brooklyn needs Johnson to continue his effectiveness and ability to carry the team at times.
Going into last season, Johnson did not garner a lot of attention. Deron Williams was coming off a very strong finish to the previous season after he became fully healthy. Brook Lopez had made his first ever All-Star team and was widely-considered one of best centers in the NBA. Paul Pierce was entering his first season not on the Boston Celtics and averaged 18.6 points per game the year before. Lastly, Kevin Garnett was still recognized as a dominant big-man, as the future Hall-of-Famer put up 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in the 2012-13 season.
However, it was Johnson who emerged as Brooklyn’s go-to player, and that label stayed with him throughout the whole season. Coach Jason Kidd was wrong in the beginning of the year for giving to the ball to Pierce most of the time in late-game situations. While Pierce has definitely earned that respect, Johnson has been beyond clutch down the stretch for the Nets the past two years. Around the league, Johnson is near the top, and may even be on the top of the list of clutch players. He has won numerous games for Brooklyn with his late-game heroics, acquiring the nickname “Joe Cool.” Every team needs one guy they can trust time after time in the clutch, and Johnson is that guy for the Nets.
In addition, Johnson, an All-Star last season, took his game to a whole new level during the playoffs. Against the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat, Johnson took over games at times, and the Nets would not have won a few of the games even if Johnson was close to the level he was performing at. In Game 5 with Toronto, the Nets trailed by 22 entering the fourth quarter. Yet Johnson willed the team back with a furious comeback that just just fell short in the end. In other games in the Toronto series, Johnson consistently picked up the slack for other players underachieving and truly put the Nets on his back. Johnson’s three-point game is appreciated, but his recent adjustments allowing him to post-up at an elite level and weave his way into the lane are what make him so special.
In this upcoming season, the Nets have several question marks. Can Lopez, the best offensive player on the team, stay healthy? Can Williams return to his old form and lead the Nets like he did before last season? Who will replace Pierce in the starting lineup, and who will contribute big minutes off the bench?
Through all the uncertainty, one thing is for sure: Johnson will still be there, performing efficiently every game and being cold-blooded in the clutch. Although the numbers do not correlate with his contract, another season of Johnson being “Joe Cool” will determine how far Brooklyn will go.
Jordan Berkowitz is a Brooklyn Nets and NBA writer for RantSports.com