How Adding Joe Johnson Impacts Heat’s Future Finances & Spacing
Joe Johnson is expected to start for the Heat in tonight’s game at New York after officially signing with Miami on Saturday, according to a team press release.
After clearing waivers yesterday, the seven-time All-Star’s number one priority in deciding to sign with Miami over Oklahoma City, Cleveland, Toronto and Atlanta was to gain a shot at a starting job and to play major minutes, said Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical on Friday.
Johnson chooses the Heat, largely for the chance to play a significant on-court role and set himself up for another long-term contract this summer. With Chris Bosh’s immediate playing future in medical peril and both Tyler Johnson and Beno Udrih lost with season-ending injuries, it only made the opportunity in Miami more appealing.
Johnson, who reached a contract buyout on his expiring salary this Thursday with the Brooklyn Nets, agreed to a reduction of $3.0 million on his remaining $6.7 million this season to become a free agent, according to The Vertical’s Bobby Marks.
Prior to his agreement with Miami, it seemed the Heat would be reluctant to go above the luxury tax so suddenly after creating moves all season to reduce costs and avoid becoming the first franchise to pay the punitive repeater tax.
They traded Mario Chalmers, Chris Andersen, Jarnell Stokes, Brian Roberts and three second-round picks in order to fall $218,000 under the luxury tax by the trade deadline.
Furthermore, just three nights ago at the Miami Heat’s annual gala, president Pat Riley said to the Sun-Sentinel:
We’re gonna have to wait. We have our priorities. We have our limitations financially as far as what we can do and how much. There’s a certain date, but obviously being down another point guard (Udrih), we may have to rethink that. But right now that’s not the priority.
That date was March 6th, but it appears Miami is willing to wage the risk with this one.
Why is that? Because the only thing the Heat are sacrificing is $262,000 in salary, $110,000 in luxury taxes and $2.6 million in tax distributions, per the great Albert Nahmad of HeatHoops.com.
In essence, team owner Mickey Arison will be writing a check worth $110,000 to the league instead of receiving a $2.6 million check from them. Pocket change for the multi-billionaire.
What was initially perceived to be a major hold was the possibility Miami would lose the flexibility to execute sign-and-trades during free agency come July, 1st. However, that is not the case.
If the Heat is able to avoid the tax this season (and assuming it will avoid the tax next season as well, which is all but certain), the repeater tax – which triggers if a team pays the tax for a fourth time in five years – will not be an issue [for] Miami until at least the 2020-21 season. But even if [they do] pay the tax this season, the repeater tax still won’t be an issue for the Heat until at least the 2019-20 season.
The salary cap for the 2016-17 season is expected to rise to an NBA record $92 million and $108 million in 2017-18. The tax threshold is even greater, currently estimated at $111 million for 2016-17 and $130 million in 2017-18.
With those insane projections, the Heat, who will have between $43.2-$48.9 million in cap space for 2016 – depending on the team’s ability to trade Josh McRoberts – should have no issues staying below the luxury tax these next two seasons nor will they face the repeater tax the rest of the decade.
What are the Miami Heat getting in Joe Johnson?
Quickly looking at his numbers, Joe Johnson’s re-emergence since the start of the New Year has been rather auspicious. Moreover, Johnson has excelled in the exact same area Miami struggles with the most: floor spacing. It’s painfully obvious how bad the Heat’s offense is lacking someone who can space the floor – almost as much as Heat Twitter is lacking Spoon.
Miami ranks dead last in the league in three-point shooting percentage at 31.8 percent. That’s no bueno, especially for a team that is trying to contend for a shot at the Eastern Conference Finals.
With this in mind, the Heat also ranks in the bottom half of the league in offensive efficiency (tied 26th out of 30 teams alongside the Milwaukee Bucks) with a 101.5 offensive rating. Miami is under teams like the Detroit Pistons, the New York Knicks and the Memphis Grizzlies – not terrific company if you’re Miami.
Thankfully, what Joe Johnson brings is pure shooting that should immediately bolster this team’s offense. So far in 2016, Johnson is shooting 47 percent on catch-and-shoot threes on three attempts per game (45 percent overall from three on roughly four attempts per game).
In context, if he was shooting this way continually from the beginning of the season, Johnson would be fifth in the NBA in three-point percentage, above a group of Western Conference All-Stars in Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul.
At 6-foot-7, he’s a volume shooter who can play either wing, which is conducive to how Miami likes to run their offense. Johnson won’t be asked to do a lot of ball handling, even though he is quite capable. But when Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic are sharing the floor with him, he will provide some much-needed spot-up shooting aside from the corner threes Luol Deng is parked in.
Based off the shot chart above from NBASavant.com, Johnson is shooting a stunning 44.3 percent from above the break since the New Year, where he takes the majority of his three-point opportunities. It gives Miami a ton of options in the spread pick-and-roll game and fills a desperately needed hole.
Joe Johnson since the new year:
Left Corner 3: 53%
Right Corner 3: 66%
Above the Break 3: 43%
Such a huge pickup.
— Aprende El Juego (@cch1125) February 26, 2016
A new dimension Miami could add to their game – or an old dimension rather – is what I like to call the “Ray Allen play,” a simple screen up top to a flare out on the break. Sometimes even a screen to free up Allen for the flare more.
“The Big 3” era was very fond of this set and went to it a lot during late-game situations. Because of Johnson’s prolific shooting from up top (above the break), Miami might be able to make use of this whenever Johnson screens for either Wade or Dragic.
Here is the same exact set, except Allen slips away and darts to the break using Chris “Birdman” Anderson’s screen. Allen’s man has to help out on him while Birdman rolls to the paint. But an easy pass allows for an easy basket. Now, just imagine that, but with Amar’e Stoudemire or Hassan Whiteside and Wade running the offense up top. Goosebumps, I know.
Another key takeaway is Johnson is making the majority of his threes when he is open, per SportsVU data. He’s knocking over 50 percent of his three-point attempts on wide-open shots (defender six-plus feet away) and 41 percent on open shots (defender four-to-six feet away). So, what that tells us is his numbers are indeed sustainable, based on the frequency of those shot attempts.
The Heat should be able to replicate those same kind of shots for Johnson since Miami’s a top ten team in drives per game (29). It fits in well with Johnson’s spot-up nature and his numbers shouldn’t dip too much.
Sure, there are questions remaining about how well he will fit in defensively, which is fair. There’s also the concern of him slowing down the offense even more than Wade. That will be left to see once Johnson makes his debut tomorrow night against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
For now, be happy Miami was able to pull away with an upgrade over Gerald Green, who is shooting 31.3 percent on threes (67 for 214), far below his 36.2 percent career average. Green is having a bad stretch of games lately, shooting just 30.8 percent from the field and 20 percent from beyond the arc. Altogether, it’s safe to expect Johnson to take over the majority of Green’s minutes immediately.
Brian Goins & Giancarlo Navas contributed to this article.