Dirk Nowitzki just became the 6th member of the NBA’s 30,000 Point Club, which is phenomenal for him and we should give him his due, but Jazz fans should be keenly aware of another upcoming milestone in Joe Johnson’s career. As of today, Joe Johnson is closing in on joining the 20,000 Point Club and sits on 19,843 career points. Joe will become just the 46th player in NBA history to join that elite club. of the 45 members of the club, Joe’s 16.5 points per game average is better than only Gary Payton (16.3) and Robert Parrish (14.5), but Tom Chambers is the only Hall of Fame eligible member of the club, not to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Joe is in elite company. In fact, Joe has already scored more points than NBA legends John Stockton, Isiah Thomas, Scottie Pippen, Tracy McGrady, Kevin McHale, James Worthy, and Magic Johnson just to name a few. But that is not why Jazz fans owe Joe a huge debt of gratitude.
Joe Johnson is a professional scorer. That’s what he does. He has made a plethora of big shots in the clutch and, at his peak, was one of the most unstoppable isolation scorers in the game. I remember watching Johnson with the Hawks as he backed defenders down with painful patience and the defense couldn’t do anything about it. Johnson punished smaller defenders. He played slow and deliberate and he used his strength to get where he wanted. Johnson has scored only 525 of his 19,843 points in a Jazz uniform, but all of those points, all those turnaround jumpers, isolation plays, drawn fouls, clutch shots, deep threes, all of it was for the Jazz’s benefit.
When he signed with the Jazz, he became Gordon Hayward’s first scoring mentor. I’m not saying that Gordon couldn’t score and hasn’t always had a knack for finishing and hitting shots, but Gordon could only learn so much about scoring from Al “the black hole” Jefferson or pre-All-Star Paul Millsap. Gordon has never had an NBA teammate who averaged more than what he is scoring this season. The addition of Joe Johnson gave Gordon Hayward a front row seat at watching exactly how Joe gets to his spots on the floor. Joe knows where he wants to get and he knows how to get there and Gordon has been watching.
We often hear players talking about the “game slowing down” for them. This has been especially true with Gordon this year. Gordon is more patience with the ball, better at getting to his spots, strong enough to get to his spots on the floor and smart enough to know when his team needs his scoring punch. He has started punishing smaller, weaker players and is drawing more fouls than even before. His scoring is up 2.4 points per game despite playing a minute-and-a-half less per game. While his scoring has gone up so has his efficiency, 3.4 percent up in field goal shooting, 3.8 percent up in three point shooting, and 3.4 percent up from the free throw line. His turnovers are also down 0.7 turnovers per game. The game has simply slowed down for Hayward this season.
The funny thing is that statistically, these two have a lot in common.
Obviously Hayward hasn’t had the benefit of having all of his peak seasons to bring up his averages. But the shooting numbers are striking and if Hayward has a Joe Johnson caliber career, Jazz fans would be ecstatic.
Don’t get me wrong, Hayward didn’t just automatically improve when Joe Johnson signed with the Jazz. Gordon has worked his tail off to get to where he is. He has trained long hours in the weight room, he has studied the game, and he has spent time with Team USA and Kobe Bryant picking up tricks, but seeing Joe Johnson up close day after day in practice has given Gordon the opportunity to observe exactly how to be a professional scorer. For that, all Jazz fans owe Joe Johnson a huge debt of gratitude.