Looming Large: Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson was signed by the Atlanta Hawks in 2005 for a 5-year, $70 million deal. At the time the contract was much criticized, especially by some members of Atlanta's front office. While Johnson hasn't delivered much team success for Atlanta, he has validated his contract and has performed at an all-star level for the Hawks over the past three years.

With a 6'7, 200 lb, frame, Johnson has proven to be one of the most difficult matchup's in the NBA, blending size, athleticism and an excellent basketball I.Q. Johnson may not be an elite player, but his excellent overall game has him very close to that status.

On offense, Johnson is a jack of all trades. He thrives on penetrating the defense and attacking the basket, but he also has an extremely lethal jump-shot. Johnson has a fairly effective array of low-post moves to take advantage of smaller guards, but he is more efficient when facing the basket. Johnson is shooting 37% from behind the arc this season and is logging 20 points per game.

Johnson's scoring total is down from last year, when he averaged 25 points a game, but he has picked his game up in every other facet. He has taken on the role as leader on the floor and has acted as a point guard for most of the season, which isn't his natural position. Despite playing out of his comfort zone, Johnson has been fairly effective as a point guard, averaging 5 assists per game and logging nearly a 2:1 turnover to assist ratio.

Another aspect that Johnson has improved on is rebounding, which has helped him become a more complete player. He is averaging 5.3 boards a game, the second highest total of his career, and is doing work on the offensive glass as well.

Perhaps the only knock on Johnson's game is the fact that he isn't an elite one-on-one defender. While he is modest, Johnson can still use some work in that area of his game, but he certainly isn't a liability. In fact, Johnson has established himself as a solid defender, logging one steal a game.

The Hawks realized that Johnson was perhaps doing too much for the franchise, and brought in veteran guard Mike Bibby at the trade deadline to help solidify the backcourt. Johnson, who ranks 4th in the NBA in minutes per game, hasn't necessarily thrived since Atlanta acquired Bibby, as he has averaged just over his season average in points, but has also increased his turnover rate by almost half a turnover per game. The Hawks have also played sub par ball since bringing in Bibby from Sacramento and have less than a .250 winning percentage with him.

Although Johnson and the Hawks have struggled to a certain degree as of late, they have stayed in playoff contention in the less than stellar Eastern Conference, and Johnson's well-rounded game has been a major reason for it. Earlier in the season, Johnson beat out Orlando Magic forward, Hedo Turkoglu, for a spot on the All-Star team. Turkoglu will get a chance to avenge his all-star snub, as Orlando will play Atlanta on Monday. Johnson might matchup with Turkoglu at times, but he will likely face Maurice Evans for a majority of the night. Evans is a solid defender, but he might struggle against the more gifted and physically tuned Johnson. Johnson scored 24 points the last team the two teams faced and will get a majority of Orlando's attention as he will try to lift his team over the division leading, Orlando Magic.