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Nets’ veteran guard Johnson tries to live down nickname Iso-Joe

Associated Press The man called Iso-Joe did not ask for the nickname, or the ball-dominating style that spawned it, or the burdens of a one-man show. The label suggests self-indulgence, and the modest, soft-speaking fellow from Little Rock, Ark., hardly fits the caricature. “I don’t know where the Iso-Joe comes from,” said Joe Johnson, sounding more bemused than annoyed. For most of his seven seasons as an Atlanta Hawk, Johnson was a reluctant solo artist, powering coach Mike Woodson’s isolation-heavy offense while teammates stood and watched. The Hawks won a lot of games and Johnson scored a lot of points — until the playoffs, when the simplistic style faltered, leaving Johnson as the scapegoat. “It was cool, until I started getting double- and triple-teamed,” Johnson said. This was an observation, not a complaint. Like any star, Johnson relished the chance to shine, even if he never viewed himself in such one-dimensional terms. As a scorer? Yes. As an iso-machine? No. The definitions and distinctions matter now that Johnson is in Brooklyn, as half of an All-Star backcourt that is expected to lead the Nets back to the playoffs. The Nets already have a do-everything point guard, Deron Williams, who can shoot, pass, drive and post up with the best of them. Johnson can also do it all — and for the last seven years has — which prompted obvious questions about compatibility and chemistry. “Both players need the ball” has been a common refrain since the Nets acquired Johnson from Atlanta in July. Not so, Johnson says. He has the box scores to back him up. In 2004-05, his last season with the Phoenix Suns, Johnson averaged 13.1 points a game while playing alongside Steve Nash, a ball-controlling point guard who also loved to shoot. Johnson was the Suns’ third-leading scorer, behind Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, and third in shots a game, with a modest 14.4. The Suns’ offense was all about tempo, spacing and ball movement — the antithesis of isolation play. Given a choice, Johnson prefers an ensemble. “When I started in Phoenix, there wasn’t no Iso-Joe,” Johnson said. “I basically played off of Amar’e and Steve Nash and Shawn and those guys. This is a similar situation for me here in Brooklyn.” Indeed, just 14.9 percent of Johnson’s possessions in 2004-05 were defined as isolation plays, according to Synergy Sports, which logs every NBA play. The majority of Johnson’s scoring chances came as the ballhandler in the pick and roll (22.1 percent), on spot-up jumpers (20.3) and in transition (18.8). It was not until Johnson joined the Hawks — who made him their franchise cornerstone with a five-year, $70 million deal in 2005 — that he became an unabashed ball dominator. Johnson’s isolation play leapt to 19.1 percent of his total offense in 2005-06 and to 31.5 in 2008-09. By 2009-10, it was 36.8 — 5 points higher than LeBron James. Johnson’s isolation play dipped to 26.9 percent in 2010-11, after Woodson was fired. But by then, Iso-Joe had become a permanent part of the NBA lexicon. It was not intended as a compliment. The vision in Brooklyn is simple: Johnson and Williams should be virtually interchangeable and complementary. Williams is a point guard who can score (21 points a game last season). Johnson is a shooting guard who can pass (4.4 assists a game in his career). Either one can initiate the offense, run the pick and roll or spot up for a jump shot. Ideally, the two All-Stars should take pressure off each other. Williams has never had a teammate as talented as Johnson. Johnson has not played with an elite point guard since leaving Phoenix. Defenses will have to think twice now before sending double teams at either one. “I’m enjoying playing with Joe,” Williams said. “He has a great feel for the game.”


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