Much like his name, Johnsonís scoring game is nondescript. Lost among the eye-popping dunks and fancy dribble moves that other swingmen in the League might boast, Johnsonís 20-plus ppg average consists of a steady helping of jumpers (especially off the screen and roll), quick and simple dribble moves to either direction punctuated with efficient finishes with both hands, and free throws. Equally as deadly is Johnsonís three-point stroke. Over the past four seasons, JJ is a 40 percent shooter from the bonus line.
The most shocking thing to learn about Roy, a potential 20-ppg scorer, is that he doesnít really excel at anything. Take, for example, his League-average shooting percentages: 45.4 percent from the field, 34 percent from three. Add to that the fact he isnít all that fast compared with other slashers. So how does Roy do it? He does a little bit of everything, and he has nary a flaw in his repertoire. His first step is quick but also immediately decisive and long, after which he uses his strong frame to keep opponents off his hip. His fearlessness allows him to play to contact on tough finishes around the basket. And he has an innate ability to feel for holes in the defense. Watch him drive for a layup and his body control and contortion is reminiscent of a less-flimsy Manu.
Prior to Mike Bibby joining the fold, Johnson handled most of Atlantaís playcalling duties. And even with Bibby in the mix, Johnson still ran the offense on occasion while Bibby played off the ball, due to JJís ability to create for his teammates with his size advantage (6-7, 235 pounds) over typically smaller opponents. Despite his big size, Johnson is just an average rebounder, but his versatility on offense makes him a standout at either the 2 or 3 spot.
For being his teamís primary offensive initiator, Roy sports an absurdly low turnover rate; last season, he dropped an already-low 2.0 tpg average from his rookie season to 1.8, all while increasing both his total minutes and touches. As a bulky off-guard, he gobbles up rebounds effectively, at a clip of nearly five a game. And while he is not a true point, he is quite adept at finding his teammates in places where itís easy for them to score. Despite upping his scoring average by nearly two and a half points, he also tacked on almost two assists a game more (for a tidy 3.2 assist-to-turnover ratio). Expect that to drop a little going forward, as the Blazers likely will move away from having Roy assume point guard duties, but his ability to seamlessly shift between roles is impressive for a second-year pro.
Johnson has never been asked to check the opponentís perimeter stud (that duty usually fell into the hands of Josh Childress), but with J-Chill off to the Mediterranean, Johnson might be asked to step up his defensive role. He certainly has the size to even match up against LeBron James; however, JJís problem will be against the smaller guards who rely on speed and quickness (think Dwyane Wade), where his lack of lateral quickness will be exposed. Because Johnson has the luxury of having a shotblocker like Josh Smith behind him, he can gamble for steals (he gets about one per game).
This is the one area of Royís game that still needs plenty of work. He has pretty good size for a guard, but his foot speed isnít good enough to keep up with the NBAís more explosive slashers. He has, however, improved on his ability to at least channel his opponents into the paint for the bigs to contend with, something that will no doubt be an attribute with Greg Oden finally joining the frontlineóa bunch already plenty big and versatileóthis season.
Atlanta is full of budding stars, but when the game is tight, the gameplan is usually simple: get the ball in Johnsonís hands and clear out. We saw it often during last seasonís tightly contested seven-game playoff series against Boston, when JJ was unafraid of the big moments. In his Game 4 performance, he put up 35, including 20 in the deciding fourth quarter to put a legitimate scare into the eventual champs. That showing only raises his confidence level heading into this season.
Despite the aforementioned pedestrian percentages, Roy almost always seemingly hits shots when he needs to. He imposed his will on several opponents last season, especially during the Blazersí early-season 13-game winning streak. And he possesses an astonishing ability to get to the rim for a high-percentage layup, even when the defense is geared up for him. He still has no playoff experience, but we wouldnít be surprised if that bell is answered this season thanks to Portlandís seemingly loaded roster.
If you peeped a bit of the aforementioned First Round series against the Celtics, you would have noticed that Johnson was the general of the Hawks. Not the rah-rah, in-your-face type, but the quiet, follow-my-lead type. The ball was always in his hands at crucial junctures of the game, with his teammates knowing full well that Johnson would make the right play. As the best playmaker on a team full of young talent, Johnson figures to expand more into his already burgeoning commander-in-chief role in Atlanta.
It speaks to Royís preternatural abilities in this category that the Blazers felt comfortable thrusting the mantle of team leader on his shoulders in only his second season. But could anyone have foreseen him guiding an inexperienced, shockingly youthful lineupósans its franchise-changing No. 1 pick, Greg Oden, for the entire seasonóto a .500 record and very nearly to the playoffs? It was a masterpiece of even-keeled, steady-as-she-goes leadership in the mold of guys such as Tim Duncan, and we certainly took notice.
The Verdict: Joe Johnson
Roy is one of the Leagueís up-and-comers; as the spotlight descends on the Northwest this season thanks to the return of Oden, there is no doubt more people will become familiar with Roy and his surprisingly veteran game. But without that necessary big-game experience, the 3-2 edge goes to Johnson, not only for his proven scoring prowess but also for his clutch play in the playoffs against the Cís.