Joe Johnson probably bricked some fadeaway here but that's not the point. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Ricky linked this post at the mothership by Mike Prada in his Tuesday Free Agent update, but I just got around to reading it today.
It's about the Nets potential rise to the not-Miami next tier in the Eastern Conference following the Joe Johnson acquisition, a level at which the Bulls may no longer be in, considering Derrick Rose's return. But what I found interesting was Prada's looking beyond the general assessment of Johnson as an overpaid gunner losing efficiency and defensive ability with age to the intrinsic added value of someone willing to take on a possession or two:
there's a reason he's coveted by fellow players around the league. Back in 2010, when the Rose reportedly told management that Johnson was the guy he wanted. Not . Not . Not . Certainly not . Joe Johnson.had cap space to chase anyone they wanted,
But there's a reason Rose wanted Johnson, as irrational as it may seem to fans who watch him dribble around and force shots. Being a point guard is harder than it looks. There's so much dribbling, which seems like it's fun, but really, it's taxing. Taking plays from the coach, trying to get your teammates going ... it adds up. Mental fatigue is common with point guards, and it plays out in many ways. Many struggle defensively. Many disengage once they pass the ball. Many decide it's not worth it to push tempo. Many over-dribble because they're paralyzed and are processing their many responsibilities instead of just playing. They don't do these things because they're selfish; they do these things because they are not robots that coaches can shift into "pass mode" or "score mode" to suit their needs.
With Johnson, though, your point guard doesn't need to carry so heavy a responsibility. Johnson is so talented as a playmaker, so crafty as a pick-and-roll player, that you can let him go to work every so often. Too much of that can be bad; the last seven years in Atlanta are proof. Just enough, though, can mean wonders for a lead guard. Now, he can hand off some responsibility and focus more on the many areas of his game that he would otherwise have to subjugate for the good of the team. For guys like Rose and Williams that have many characteristics of a shooting guard in addition to being elite point guards, this is enticing. For their coaches, it opens up the playbook and allows them to throw many unique looks at defenses.
Now, I think part of the reason Rose wanted Joe Johnson (a story I've read elsewhere too) is that they share agents, Reinsdorf pal Arn Tellem. But wanting that type of player to share the offensive load is something most of us (and I think the Bulls, actually) agree with.
As we've seen the past two seasons, nearly every set action* on offense runs through Derrick Rose. Some of it is by Thibs' limited design, but some of it is personnel. The Bulls have no real post-up options, and no guards (including Rose) that good at setting them up anyway. They don't have wings who can score consistently in isolation. Their center can make plays but it's best used more as a safety valve than anything. Only his backups can dribble the ball. It's been either Derrick Rose doing it all, or at the very least pounding the ball waiting for someone to come off screens.
*meaning: destroying the offensive glass doesn't really count
They still managed to have a pretty good offense, but it's not a desired diversity of workload. It's more than merely the minutes Rose has to play, it's that he can't even take a possession off. It's possibly what led to his myriad lower-body injuries this season, which then possibly led to a major kneesplosion later. And as Prada points out, it can be mentally taxing as well.
And the Bulls still need this kind of help for Rose. It's not easy to acquire someone with those skills who are good enough to make a difference (as in, better than Kirk Hinrich), sometimes you have to wildly overpay, and/or take a risk, to do so. This isn't to say the Bulls should've looked specifically into Joe Johnson, as that's probably only workable if teams desired Carlos Boozer in any similar fashion. But it's unnerving that they've been reportedly spending this offseason just trying to sign a cheaper bench. A lot of things have to go right for the Bulls to merely keep 'treading water' if they're potentially replacing some combination of Watson, Korver, Brewer, and Asik.
And even if they pull it off, what does that do extra for Derrick Rose when he returns? He'll be coming off of major surgery and an extended recovery time, and he's going to be effectively told to go back to handling every single possession when he's on the court? Or the more likely scenario: asked to do even more, with even less help?