Iso Joe is Back. But, Why?

Joe Johnson wasn’t in the NBA last season but he was in the Big 3. Now he’s back on a NBA roster at the age of 38. He worked out for the Bucks and Nets before signing with the Detroit Pistons, a team that is going absolutely nowhere. If the Pistons make the playoffs, it will be a lower seed. The Pistons did add Derrick Rose in the off-season so perhaps they want to pair with Black Griffin and Andre Drummond former All-Stars way past their glory days.

Iso Joe has the kind of skill set that doesn’t fit with the modern NBA. His iso nickname says it all. It’s not that kind of game anymore. But the reason Johnson wasn’t on anyone’s roster last season has less to do with his nickname and more to do with his age. He can’t guard his position. He’s a liability. He has a negative net average meaning the points he scores is less than the points he gives up. He’s a quiet man so his leadership is more of the work hard and be ready to roll example. He’ll fit into any locker room.

Joe Johnson doesn’t need the NBA and to be real the NBA doesn’t need Johnson who will be 39 next summer. In his career, Johnson made $200 million over a 16 year long haul. His Pistons contract is partially guaranteed. He can count on 10% of it, until January 7th when all contracts are guaranteed. It’s not like the Pistons are all in. Johnson’s contract is similar to Dwight Howard’s but Johnson is being asked to do more than rebound and protect the rim. He is expected to score and to not get humiliated on defense.

Most associate Johnson with the Atlanta Hawks. He scored 10,606 points in the ATL.  Most recently, Utah and Houston paid Johnson to get buckets and he only managed south of 7 points per game.  Johnson was supposed to bring a title to Brooklyn. He played with Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The problem was no one was in their prime. Johnson had a cup of coffee with Boston, and he averaged 13 points for the Heat. His Phoenix Suns years began the Iso Joe career.

A successful stint in the Big 3 where Johnson’s team, The Triplets, won the title has translated into a job for an aged veteran who used to lineup in for All-Star games. Give Iso Joe credit. He took advantage of what was in front of him and made it work. He’s back in the league. But doing what? He’s nothing more than a bench player who may be able to log 15 minutes a game.  Is he the Arkansas version of Vince Carter? Is it enough to cut a NBA check and languish on the bench?

Old NBA players come and go without much notice. No one really noticed that Joe Johnson wasn’t in the league last year. The league went on without him. The shooting guard position is deep but not necessarily in the East. It will be interesting to see how Joe matches up with Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo and Jaylen Brown. Can he still get his shot off?

When he was an All-Star Joe Johnson was an underrated scorer because his game was quiet and so was his personality. His Hawks teams found a way to implode in the playoffs. Joe could score particularly off the dribble. He was like that John Wooden saying, “be fast but don’t hurry.” Nothing about the way he played basketball felt urgent but he could put the ball in the hole. Like all scorers, he was overpaid. Until his usefulness ran out. Then he became a journeymen and never was who he used to be as his prime was over and he was asked to fill in.

Because the Pistons aren’t investing much in Johnson, his addition is hardly significant. He’ll get minutes and they’ll see what he can do. It will be interesting to see how a defensive coach in Dwane Casey handles Johnson who was a decent defender a decade ago but now can’t do much on that end. Casey is all in on who Joe used to be, not who he is now at 38. Joe will have a couple of good nights and many atrocious nights having to keep up with athletic shotmaking 2’s and then trying to score. He ain’t in the Big 3 anymore.

The best thing about Joe Johnson is his resiliency. That alone makes this a nice story. He made the most out of the Big 3 and he helped the league’s visibility. The Big 3 is a G-League for the veteran set. You can  make it work for you. If you’re Joe Johnson that is, a former All-Star and Eastern Conference shot maker now just hanging on to the rep of Iso Joe.