Moke Hamilton, SNYNets.com
NEW YORK — Thus far, the Nets return on the investment of Joe Johnson has been somewhat poor.
And by "somewhat," I mean "excruciatingly."
Johnson was acquired to be the second scorer on a team that had visions of challenging the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics for supremacy in the NBA's Eastern Conference, but thus far, he's been a little more than a high-priced diversion for a Nets offense that has needed consistent and efficient play from its front line in order to win.
And although the Nets managed to beat the Orlando Magic on Sunday by a score 82-74, the talk of the Nets town was Joe Johnson and his early struggles, even though the Nets are now 3-2. Against the Magic on Sunday, Johnson shot just 3-13 from the field en route to scoring 13 points.
On the season, he's averaging just 13.6 points per game and shooting just 36 percent from the field. Those numbers hardly justify the more than $19 million Johnson will be paid this season, much less than additional three-years and about $70 million left on his contract after that.
Johnson has been one of the Nets that has talked about challenging for the NBA's Eastern Conference crown, but thus far, he's left a lot to be desired.
Mikhail Prokhorov doesn't care about the NBA's luxury tax—we know. But the fact of the matter is that when he was acquired, most within the Nets organization believed that Johnson would produce similarly to last season when he was still a member of the Atlanta Hawks. Then, Johnson averaged about 19 points, four rebounds and four assists per game, all while shooting about 45 percent from the field.
At 31 years old, though, the Hawks believed that Johnson's best days were behind him and that's why they were willing to trade him in what amounted to a salary dump.
It's been just five games, but it's safe to say that everyone is beginning to wonder when Johnson will click with his teammates and produce more.
After Sunday's victory, Avery Johnson spent a lot of time discussing Joe and his struggles. "There's a possibility that Joe could average 22 points a game for us this year, or he could average 16," coach Johnson said. "I want Joe to be efficient. Was this his most efficient game? No, we'll talk about it over dinner tonight, but he'll get there. He's playing with Deron Williams and he's playing with Brook Lopez. He's getting double and triple teams, especially since Gerald Wallace is out. Again, he'll get there and he should be efficient."
Part of Joe's struggles may be that he's trying to get acclimated to playing within a new offensive system and one that isn't necessarily centered around him. Joe Cool doesn't seem too worried, though. "Sooner or later, we'll figure it out," Joe Johnson said after the game. "I'm very confident, all my shots tonight felt great, except maybe one or two, but other than that I felt like they were all going in."
Joe Johnson is preaching patience, just like his coach. "I haven't been shooting a high percentage. I'm still feeling my way and still trying to get acclimated," he said. "We're still trying to build some chemistry and get clicking on all cylinders."
What's most interesting, though, was that Johnson's continued struggles seem to be overshadowing the fact that the Nets have actually won their past two games. Even Deron Williams has noticed Johnson's struggles. "It's definitely a work in progress," he said. "Joe, I know he hasn't gotten into a rhythm yet. It's tough, it's been tough trying to disperse the scoring load."
Moving forward, Avery Johnson says that he still has work to do with his ball club, especially with Joe Johnson and his looks on the offensive end. "We're trying to get Joe to play a little more below the free-throw line," he said. "Historically, he iso'ed a lot around the college three point line. So, I think for us to be a really good team, he's gonna have to play a little more below the free-throw line, get to the free-throw line more and that's when we're really gonna become a good team... That's what we're working on."
If the Nets are to have any serious success this season, they'll need Joe Johnson to be a 20 points per-game scorer.The team is facing some high expectations considering it has the league's second highest payroll and Johnson—the team's highest paid player—has said the Nets are a contender.
His next opportunity to put the questions about his production to rest will come on Tuesday night when the Nets battle the Cleveland Cavaliers at Barclays Center.
But until then, there will continue to be more questions than answers.