Joe Johnson is an All-Star?

Posted on February 1, 2008 by


The Western Conference and Eastern Conference All-Star starters (decided by the fans) and reserves (decided by the coaches)  have now been decided.  And Henry Abbott has already offered a list of all the players who have been snubbed.  

In discussing who has been snubbed, though, we must also clearly identify which players should not be going to New Orleans.  And although there are a few players who don’t appear to be as worthy as the fans and coaches apparently thought, one name clearly stands out.  As the following tables reveal, Joe Johnson was the only below average star in the first half of the 2007-08 season. 

Tables One and Two: Wins Produced and WP48 of the 2008 All-Stars

His inclusion in this game leads to a few questions.

1. Why was Johnson named by the coaches to the All-Star team?

2. Why should Johnson not be considered a star?

3. Who should replace Johnson in New Orleans?

With questions and tables listed, here are some answers.

Why was Johnson named by the coaches to the All-Star team?

The Atlanta Hawks have not made the playoffs since 1999. At the midpoint of this season, though, the Hawks are one of the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference.  Yes, that’s not much of an accomplishment.  Still, the Hawks have improved upon last year’s performance. 

Johnson leads this improving team in points and assists, so clearly he’s a big reason why the Hawks might finally make the post-season.  Well, actually Johnson has led this team in points and assists since he arrived in 2005. So maybe he’s not the story in Atlanta this year.

When we look at Table Three – which compares what the Hawks have done this year to what you would expect if these players performed as they did last year (except the rookies) – we see that it’s indeed the case that Johnson is not why Atlanta has improved.

Table Three: The Atlanta Hawks at the midpoint of 2007-08

Table Three indicates that after 41 games the Hawks were on pace to win 36 games. If Atlanta’s players were as productive this season as they were in 2006-07 this team would be on pace to win 36 games.  Yes, Atlanta’s veterans haven’t really improved much at all.  At least, in sum there’s no improvement.  Individual players like Marvin Williams have gotten better (he’s now average).  Anthony Johnson is also more productive, taking the title of “Most Productive Johnson” on the Hawks.

But Zaza Pachulia, Shelden Williams, and Joe Johnson have actually regressed.  The net effect of these changes is basically zero, which means we have to look elsewhere for why Atlanta has improved.

And our search stops with Al Horford, the player who should be the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year.  At least, if wins mattered, Horford would be “the Choice.”  But scoring tends to trump wins, and Horford is probably going to miss this trophy.

I could go on and on about Horford (and hope to in a future post), but for here I just want to emphasize that Joe Johnson

– is not the most productive player on the Hawks

– is not the “most productive Johnson” on the Hawks

– has regressed more than any other Atlanta player this year.

Why should Johnson not be considered a star?

Who should replace Johnson in New Orleans?

The answers to my last two questions is reported in Table Four.

Table Four: Comparing Joe Johnson to Jose Calderon and Mike Dunleavy

Table Four reports what Joe Johnson has done his first 2.5 years in Atlanta. In 2005-06 and 2006-07, Johnson was above average with respect to shooting efficiency, assists, and personal fouls.  With respect to all else – especially the net possession variables (rebounds +steals-turnovers) – J. Johnson was below average.  Nevertheless, his shooting efficiency was sufficient to give J. Johnson a slightly above average Win Score.

When we look at 2007-08, though, we see that J. Johnson is now a below average scorer. He’s still above average with respect to taking shots, but he has trouble getting these to go in.  When we add in his persistent weakness with respect to net possessions, we see a player that is now below average. In sum, if the All-Star selection were based on all of a player’s numbers in the first half of the season – and obviously they are not – then J. Johnson would be joining A. Johnson in Atlanta.

So who should replace J. Johnson?  That answer is also in Table Four.  The obvious choice is Jose Calderon, who had an amazing first half with the Toronto Raptors (primarily due to a high level of shooting efficiency and very low turnover numbers). The Eastern Conference All-Stars have Kidd and Billups at point guard. At shooting guard the team has Wade, Hamilton, and Johnson.  There’s no reason the team needs three shooting guards instead of three point guards, so replacing J. Johnson with Calderon would work.  Plus it would have rewarded a player who was one of the top ten players – in Wins Produced – in the Eastern Conference over the first half of the season.

If a shooting guard was needed, though, the first name that leaps out is Mike Dunleavy.  Yes, Dunleavy has historically been only an average player.  But as I noted a couple of weeks ago, he has played amazingly well across the first half of 2007-08.

But let’s say you insist on replacing Johnson with a shooting guard, and you don’t like Dunleavy.  Well, you still have plenty of choices.  There is Vince Carter, Michael Redd, and Ray Allen.  Plus Carlos Delfino, Anthony Parker, and DeShawn Stevenson have also been more productive than Johnson in 2007-08.

Yes, DeShawn Stevenson has been slightly more productive than Johnson this season.  And that result by itself should tell us that coaches might have made a bad choice in taking Joe Johnson. 

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.