POP 2019-2020 Season Preview: Joe Johnson and Opportunity Cost

I think everyone was a little bit confused when reports came out that Joe Johnson was working out for the Pistons. Confusion became reality when Johnson signed with Detroit. The talk was that Johnson would compete for the final spot on the Pistons’ roster, but with the way the team has talked about him, the 38-year old appears to have already secured a spot on the team. 

While this places Christian Wood on the outside looking in, Johnson does provide some value to the team. He has a chance to earn a rotation spot, as his battle for minutes will come against Detroit’s young guns in Svi Mykhailiuk and Khyri Thomas as well as Langston Galloway, while Tony Snell, Luke Kennard, and Bruce Brown are locks to play big minutes on the wing. 

Johnson last appeared in the NBA in with the Houston Rockets in the 2017-2018 season. He drew interest from NBA teams after a stellar year in the Big 3, where he took home the league MVP award. But the NBA isn’t the Big 3. The competition will be much tougher. 

In the Pistons’ first game of the preseason, Johnson was unable to register a point while taking just two shots. He finished with two rebounds, an assist, and one turnover in eight minutes. His minutes came primarily at the power forward spot, which is a position that Johnson says he can play now. The anticipation was that Johnson would come in and help on the wing likely at the three spot, as Detroit has plenty of options at the four. He did not play in Detroit’s win over the Mavericks in their second game. 

Johnson has value. He would bring a calming veteran presence to a locker room that has a slew of young players in it. He can conceivably still score the basketball. He can provide depth at either forward spot. But the biggest question is how will his body react to playing in the most athletic and talented basketball league in the world, especially after being out of the league for the past two years?

It will be interesting to see the impact the rest of the preseason will have for Johnson. Christian Wood, who is vying for the final roster spot himself, has looked really good. He appears to belong on the roster. Does that put pressure on Johnson? Or will the Pistons make another move to be able to keep both Johnson and Wood? With Johnson picking up a DNP-CD on Wednesday, it doesn’t seem that Detroit is looking for Johnson to prove anything. That either means they’ll waive Christian Wood regardless of his performance, or they have another roster move coming

Still, how Johnson performs could be a nice indicator as to how much of an impact he can have this season. Yes, it’s just preseason, but he’s 38 and needs to accumulate himself to the league. He doesn’t have to go out and score 20 points, but it’d be ideal for him to showcase how he’ll be useful and where he’ll be useful to the team, particularly on offense. 

With three games left to go in the preseason, there is still time to see those developments. The addition of Johnson to the team has put the Pistons in an interesting predicament, and what they do from here will certainly generate buzz no matter what the decision may be. But for now, it appears that Joe Johnson will be playing basketball once again in the NBA, and this season, it will be for the Detroit Pistons.

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