For Razorback/NBA fans, late spring has become the time of year when all the leaves have fallen to the ground, yellowed and brown. For a dozen years now no pro Hog has played a major role in the goings on of late May or early June. Not since 2004, when Corliss Williamson offered his body in sacrifice to a Minotaur named Shaq, has a former Razorback seen any minutes in an NBA Finals.
Since then, it’s been mostly teases. Ronnie Brewer played on some very good Utah and Chicago teams but never broke through past the conference finals. Jannero Pargo couldn’t do it in the year he got major playoff burn with Chris Paul’s Hornets. Patrick Beverley signed with Miami for the preseason of the first season in that team’s LeBron-Wade-Bosh era, but he was cut before Halloween.
No Razorback, though, has played a bigger role in his playoff teams’ runs -- and playoff shortcomings -- than Joe Johnson. The man has now played in 11 postseasons and not yet been able to play in an entire conference finals, let alone NBA Finals. It’s not as if the Little Rock native hasn’t had his chances.
Johnson likely would have played in one by now had he resigned with Phoenix in 2005 and/or not had the audacity to try to dunk on Jerry Stackhouse.
Certainly, he would be suiting up for one next week had he said "Yes" to LeBron James’ overtures and chosen to play the remainder of this season in Cleveland instead of Miami. Hell, given how badly James wants to win the big one for his native land, Johnson would have a strong shot at grabbing a ring as well. Cleveland is favored to win the 2016 NBA Championship if the opponent is Golden State.
I’m all about the topic of Johnson’s inability to help lead a team to the Finals while becoming the world’s second-highest paid basketball player. It compelled me to pour a jarringly large number of words into a recent SLAM column.
Now, though, is not a time for lamenting.
‘Tis time for pseudo-celebrating, statistical heritage style, of all pro Hogs -- whether they have played in a Finals or not. And here, Joe Johnson is still at the top of many mountains, just as he was entering the season.
JJ is destroying the field in this category (FYI: Johnson passed Scottie Pippen as the all-time leading NBA Arkansan this year). Below, look at how he has lapped runner-up Sidney Moncrief in sheer field goal attempts. Due to his torrid three-point shooting (with the exception of dry patches at the start and finish this past season), he’s on pace to do the same in total points.
One of the only categories where Moncrief still dominates is free throw attempts. It’s unbelievable to think he was able to do this while battling degenerative knee problems that were supposed to limit his pro career to two seasons.
Johnson is still on tops in rebounding, too, but this is one major category where young Bobby Portis has the long-range potential to crash all the way to the top of the board. Portis, now a Bull, is already the second-best rebounding pro Hog of all time in terms of boards per game. If he can up that to eight caroms a game over the next eight seasons or so, he should surpass Johnson.
Of course, that’s assuming he stays relatively healthy, Chicago improves and the Bulls (or whatever team he plays with next) start having fairly deep playoff runs.
It’s an homage to Johnson’s versatility that a player now widely known as "Iso Joe" can also become the leader in assists by a wide margin. When your alma mater hasn’t yet produced a great pro point guard, averaging between 3.5 and 4.5 assists each and every single year will eventually do that for you.
*TOV = Turnovers, All stats via BasketballReference.com
Darrell Walker probably represented the closest Razorback basketball has come to producing an All-Star level, pass-first type of player, I point out in my blog BestOfArkansasSports.com. Indeed, in the late 1980s Walker once averaged eight assists a game for the Bullets, along with over eight rebounds and nine points a game.
But soon thereafter Walker's production plummeted as he neared 30 years old, just as it had with Moncrief's in Milwaukee a few seasons before. In the 1990s Lee Mayberry, the best pure point guard the program has produced in the last 25 years, never really thrived in the pros.
I expect Johnson's record here to be untouchable for at least a decade. The only potential NBA point guards the program will produce in the next two years are incoming Razorback juniors Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon, two highly ranked JUCO signees who will first have to prove their mettle on the SEC level.
It’s probably just a tad bit early to mention the words "Justice" and "Hill" in this context, right?
For more Hogaic insight, check out this post about Scotty Thurman and Jaylen Barford. I talked to Barford about Jimmy Whitt's transfer, Kingsley's decision to stay, crashing at the Macon clan's pad and more.