What can we expect from Joe Johnson?

[From the Fanposts. Real cool stuff from YaoPau, supplying caution for the Bulls prospective 2010 FA signing. It's still not a given that he'd leave Atlanta given their success. But between the Bulls media pumping him up, the Arn Tellem connection, and the likely desperation (and not exactly unwarranted) from the Bulls to sign someone to a max deal, this is one of the most likely possibilities of next summer. -ed]

I keep hearing Joe Johnson is the #4 option if we strike out on LeBron/Wade/Bosh.  His resume fits that ranking: 4-straight all-star appearances, 22ppg scorer, good 3pt shot, good passer, plays 40mpg with almost no injury history, and he's the offensive star of a Hawks team headed toward 55 wins.

But it's his age - he turns 29 in four months - that makes me cautious.  The Bulls have a thin rotation already, and we stand to lose Tyrus, Miller, and either Hinrich/Salmons before the start of next season.  With Rose and Noah still developing, and rotation pieces needing to be acquired, our window for contention if we miss LeBron/Wade is probably a couple years away.

I'd expect Johnson to remain a star at ages 29 and 30.  But after that, when we'll really need him, what can we expect?

(much more after the jump...)


JJ will be 31, 32 and 33 years old the final three years of his 5-year contract.  To put that into perspective, here are NBA SGs and SFs currently in that age bracket:

31: Kobe, Marion, Battier, Larry Hughes, Rip Hamilton
32: Terry, Ginobili, Mo Peterson, Desmond Mason
33: Vince Carter, Posey, Raja Bell

Ray Allen and Allen Iverson just completed their 33 year old season last year.  Lots of old dudes there.  Digging deeper...


Since age 26, JJ has played 8324 minutes (40mpg) with an 18.2 PER.  Let's lowball this and say for JJ to be worth a max contract, he'd have to play 36 minutes per game over the next five years with a 17+ PER, OR have a slightly higher PER for less mpg, etc etc etc.  To describe that in numerical terms, I'll created a formula to estimate % of max value called Score.

Score = (MP / (36 * 82 * #seasons)) * (PER / 17)).

For JJ that's (8324 / (36*82*2.6) * (18.2/17) = 116.1%.  So in the last 2.6 years, he's played 16% above max value. according to this simple metric.

Now I want to see how other SGs with a similar 26-28 score held up from age 29-33.  Using basketball-reference's play index, I found the 31 shooting guards since 1980 who played 6000+ minutes from age 26-28 with a 17+ PER.

The excel can be downloaded here.


From age 26-28, 16 of the 31 SGs "earned" a max contract, and 27 were at 85%+ of max value.
From age 29-33, 6 of the 31 SGs "earned" a max contract, and 12 were at 85%+ of max value.

Of the 12 who were close to max value, five were 1st ballot Hall of Fame talents with 20+ PERs from age 26-28 (Kobe so far, Iverson, Carter, Drexler, Jordan), four were heavy 3pt shooters (Allen, Reggie, Terry, Hornacek), and two are currently above the threshold because they are active, but may fall off soon (Jason Richardson and Manu Ginobili).  The final member, Eddie Jones, checked in at 88% of max value.  Many of the playmaking types like Jerry Stackhouse, Rip Hamilton, Michael Redd, and Steve Smith didn't come close.

But even more damning are these players' performances at ages 32 and 33.  Of the 26 players listed who have played through at 32...

  • Just 5 played at a level worthy of a max contract at age 32 (with an average of 75% of max)
  • Only Michael Jordan was max-worthy at age 33 (with a player average of just 59% of max)
  • Just 8 played 2000+ minutes (24+ mpg) at age 33.  Five had their careers end before that season.

One other point I think worth mentioning, regarding those that DID achieve max level from age 29-33.  Besides Jordan's 1993-1997 run, the others to play through 33 and make the cut were Allen Iverson (2005-2009), Ray Allen (2005-2009), Vince Carter (2006-2010), and Reggie Miller (1995-1999).  My question is, if we added any of those guys during those timeframes to our current team, would we expect the Bulls to contend anytime soon?  I told you I lowballed the Score metric...



On one hand, Johnson has the athleticism, health and 3pt shooting to hold up better than, say, Jerry Stackhouse or Michael Redd.  But on the other hand, two red flags stand out to me:

  • Despite Johnson's impressive resume, his numbers with the Hawks - 18.3 PER, .541 TS% - really aren't that impressive.  Those are Josh Howard / Michael Finley type numbers, not ones you'd commit $18+ mil a year till age 33 to.
  • A dropoff at age 32 and 33 is all but guaranteed.  Michael Jordan and Jeff Hornacek were the only players to maintain their numbers through that age.  Jordan is Jordan, and took two years off; Hornacek logged only 14000 minutes through age 28 as a 3rd option.  Comparatively, Johnson will have played 26000 minutes through age 28, with many coming as a #1.

Players like Michael Finley and Jerry Stackhouse, who once effortlessly played 38+ mpg, broke down hard by age 31. Several players in the 18 PER crowd saw their PER nosedive by age 31 (Michael Finley, Rip Hamilton, Steve Smith, Jim Paxson, Alvin Robertson).  In fact, nobody with a PER below 19 from age 26-28 ended up with a 29-33 Score over max level.  (Btw, since Finley keeps coming up in comparisons, I decided to look them up side by side.  Really similar.  You don't want to click Finley's player card to see his stats after age 30.)  I'd say JJ's chances aren't good.

The counterargument is "Who cares if he falls off at age 31?  I just want to get somebody, and if we get an all-star for the next two years, I'd be more than happy with that."  But the goal is a championship.  A 2010 lineup of Rose/Noah/JJ/Deng/Taj/1st won't contend if its rotation goes six-deep.  Maybe we win 45-50 games the next two years, but then we'd have a mediocre JJ at 3 years $60 mil after that wasting years of Rose's prime.

There aren't many other options at SG, but I think we could throw big money at a PF and looking for a cheaper SG instead.  Rudy Gay plays mostly forward, but if Gar thinks he can play SG, he could be a conservative addition at less than the max.  He's just 23, and his numbers this season (17.0 PER, .533 TS%) are similar to Johnson's and could keep improving through his prime.  Randy Foye (14.3 PER, .538 TS% at age 26) is a much cheaper option who could provide equal numbers to JJ three years from now.  Anthony Morrow and JJ Redick are low PER, high TS% options.

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