Reputations are a funny thing, because perception goes a long way in determining them. Joe Johnson represents the separation of the fan and coaching perception, and that has made him perhaps the most controversial selection to the 2014 NBA All-Star rosters.
The 32-year-old swingman became the only All-Star on a Brooklyn Nets team that also includes the elder Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Point guard Deron Williams also missed out because of unimpressive performances this year and, mostly, because of injury. Center Brook Lopez, who is out for the season with a broken foot, was also left off for obvious reasons.
So did Johnson just get in because Brooklyn isn't all that bad -- Eastern Conference relativity is a funny thing -- and finds itself in the thick of the playoff race?
Maybe, but reputation matters.
Fans go for highlights, or they want numbers. The casual NBA viewer sees Johnson's meager averages of 15.0 points, 2.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds and call his selection to the All-Star team a joke. They see headlines of the struggling Nets in turmoil and of Jason Kidd's interesting coaching decisions from earlier in the year. Those things tend to stick in their minds.
Fans also remember that Johnson is owed $47.1 million for the next two seasons. His production isn't close to earning that.
But the All-Star reserves aren't voted in by fans.
NBA coaches have a completely different perception of Johnson, and it's still a very positive one. As many opposing coaches are thankful when Johnson goes 1-for-7 against them as there are coaches who see Johnson pour in 25 points on 15 shots. The law of averages make Johnson's numbers, well, average. Yet, he's still a dynamic force and the most important one for a team that following a whirlwind of media attention to begin the season seems more dangerous by the day. The Nets are winning behind Johnson -- not Williams or Lopez.
Johnson is the most consistent player on a team that went 10-3 in January and continues to crawl up the Eastern Conference standings. During a seven-game stretch last month, Johnson averaged 22.9 points on 52 percent shooting to go with 4.3 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. He's scored 25 or more six times this season, and four of those big outings have come in wins against the Miami Heat, Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks.
The perception among coaches is that Johnson has the ability to be every bit as good as he was in his prime. At times, he has been even better.
While the Nets shooting guard has never had the dunks, he still has his fair share of highlight reels from this season alone. There was the game against the Philadelphia 76ers where he scored 29 points in a quarter by hitting eight three-pointers. Johnson finished with 37 points by going 10-of-14 from three-point range.
There hasn't been much snickering about Johnson turning into Iso Joe, either. In the last few seasons, he's been one of the best clutch players in the league -- by the numbers, he's better than LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and everyone else. This year, he hit a floater in regulation to force overtime against one of his former teams, the Phoenix Suns, then scored another floater at the overtime buzzer to steal a game on the road. In the first week of January, he helped Brooklyn come back from a 16-point deficit to the Oklahoma City Thunder to win on a buzzer-beating jumper over forward Serge Ibaka.
So as far as perception goes, coaches took the bait there.
It wasn't a decision without its fault. Johnson's offensive production has lost consistency this year, and his defensive presence hasn't been what it once was -- smart and steady -- because he's aging and doesn't have the quickness to be an above-average perimeter defender. Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry perhaps deserved an All-Star spot ahead of Johnson. Toronto is winning, after all, and Lowry is putting up career numbers across the board. Orlando Magic guard Arron Afflalo also has a valid complaint that he should have made the All-Star game ahead of Johnson. He's averaging better rebounding and assist numbers, is a better defender and is shooting at a better clip while scoring 20 points per game.
But they don't have the reputation of Johnson, who made six-straight All-Stars games until missing out last season. Brooklyn is winning after all, and Johnson is the main reason for that.
While fan perception is skewed one way, NBA coaches' are skewed another. The latter got to vote, so Johnson is in New Orleans.