It is time to start calling him “Joe Cool.”
Joe Johnson, Brooklyn’s star with the smooth name and silky game, has long been an easy target for nicknames, but none have ever become definitive. Earlier this year, Kevin Garnett dubbed him “Joe Jesus,” which so perfectly summarized Joe’s career, it seemed it couldn’t be topped.
“He might not be there when you call on him, but he’s there when you need him,” Garnett said.
That’s been the line on Joe during his 12 years in the league, and in his first season with the Nets last year it was taken to extremes. Despite shooting a putrid 42.3 percent in 2012–13, he had an otherworldly ability to come through in the clutch, hitting nine of 10 field goals in the game’s final minute with a score differential of three points or less.
Things didn’t appear to improve much this season, but then something changed. In the past month, Joe Johnson no longer looks like just “Joe Jesus.” He has become “Joe Cool” — the guy who nonchalantly drops buckets all game like it is, y’know, his job. “Joe Cool” doesn’t necessarily appear to be on fire when he is playing well, and the team doesn’t look to him as a leader or momentum shifter. But just when you notice he is having a nice night, you look up to see he already has 20 points.
In March, Johnson shot nearly 50 percent from the field en route to 17 points per game. For the week of March 17–23, he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, seeming to retroactively justify his dubious inclusion on the East’s All-Star team in February. Finally, the clock doesn’t have to be running down for Joe to hit his shots.
Johnson’s newfound dominance was encapsulated in his 32-point abusing of Houston Rockets star James Harden on Tuesday. In this column, Joe has been dogged by the nickname “Iso Joe” for his tendency to take players one-on-one and slow the Nets’ offense to a crawl. Multiple times against Houston, the Nets incorporated a wrinkle that capitalized on the efficiency of Joe’s recent shooting and his love of going one-on-one — instead of Joe creating a one-on-one situation by himself with his teammates nearby, the Nets created a designed isolation for him by clearing out to one side of the floor and letting Joe operate on the other. And the shots kept falling.
So enough about “Iso Joe,” “Joe Jesus,” whatever — it is “Joe Cool” from here on out. Hopefully, Mr. Johnson keeps playing well enough to make this one stick.
Matt Spolar is a nearly 6-foot-1 journalist with a middling high school basketball career who is sure the Nets win thanks to team’s top-tier guards.