SALT LAKE CITY — Joe Johnson has started every NBA game he’s played in for the past 12 years, a remarkable achievement that not even LeBron James can claim. For his career, Johnson has averaged 36 minutes per game, which only one Jazz player (Gordon Hayward) did last year. For 11 of his 15 seasons, Johnson has played for an Eastern Conference team.
Things should be quite different for the seven-time all-star this year.
First of all, he’s back in the Western Conference for the first time since he played for Phoenix in 2005, playing for a Jazz team that some are calling the deepest in the NBA. Coach Quin Snyder hasn’t said whether or not Johnson will be a starter this season, but it’s likely Johnson’s streak of 963 straight games as a starter will come to an end and that he won’t come close to playing 36 minutes per night.
And that’s just fine with Johnson.
“I’m not coming here trying to be a star or starter,” Johnson said. “Me and coach Snyder have talked from time to time through texts or phone calls. He understands where I’m at and I understand what he wants from me as a player and that’s to help these young guys such as Rodney (Hood) and Gordon. I’m here to tell them about some of the things I’ve been through and help them out with their experiences.”
Johnson has played for five other NBA teams, most recently the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat last season. He was acquired in July as a free agent to a reported two-year, $22-million contract by the Jazz, who wanted some scoring punch as well as a veteran leader, something they got in Johnson.
“The fit is a really good one,” said Snyder. “What he brings is a confidence and experience and as much as anything, maturity. This is a player who has started every game for the past 10 years. He knows that the situation here could be different, but that wasn’t a deterrent to him coming here.
“Everything I heard about him has been positive. He knows how much I respect him. I think he looked at this team and said, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity for me to have an impact and help build something.’ That’s satisfying. Credit him, the guy’s got no ego.”
One thing the Jazz like most about Johnson on the floor is his versatility. At 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, Johnson normally plays small forward but with his shooting ability, he can play the off-guard spot and the Jazz say they can even use him as a power forward when they want to go smaller.
“Joe’s a guy who gives us a bigger wing capable of scoring in the post and is capable of playing the four position,” Snyder said. “The thing that gets lost about him, is he can play a lot of different ways. He’s an excellent passer, he takes pride in his defense.”
Indeed, besides scoring 16.9 points per game for his career, Johnson has also averaged 4.2 assists per game for his career with a high of 6.5 apg in the 2005-06 season. He's also averaged 4.1 rebounds per game for his career.
He’s known for his clutch shooting at the end of games and has the nickname “Iso Joe” because of his ability to play one-on-one with the ball.
It’s a nickname he says he doesn’t mind and one that Snyder also embraces.
“Iso rhymes with Joe,” Snyder says. “At certain times, I’d love that, to have a guy who can create a shot like that -- it’s terrific.”
“It doesn’t bother me,” said Johnson of the “Iso Joe” moniker. “I go out there and play the game how it’s supposed to be played and I have fun with it and that’s that.”
Johnson arrived in the NBA in 2001. After starring at Arkansas for two years, he was drafted 10th overall by Boston. He was traded in midseason to Phoenix, where he played four years before moving on to Atlanta. It was in Atlanta where Johnson had his best years, averaging more than 20 points per game in his seven seasons with a best of 25.0 ppg in 2006-07 when he shot a career-best 47.1 percent from the field.
“There’s a reason he’s played at the level that he has over the course of his career because his preparation has been outstanding,” said Snyder. “He’s coming in with an open mind as I am too. I’m lucky to get to coach him and he can play for a long time, in my opinion, the way he plays.”