5 NBA Players With Wasted Talent

12.13.12 5 years ago
Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson (photo. Zach Wolfe)

After DeMarcus Cousins‘ below the belt punch on O.J. Mayo in the second quarter of the Mavericks 119-96 victory this past weekend, Mayo publicly derided Cousins’ behavior, saying, “He has mental issues,” before adding, “He’s a talented player. He has an opportunity to be the face of the organization, but I don’t think he wants it.” Cousins rebuffed Mayo’s assessment and said the punch had not been intentional, even though replays show a different tale.

Eventually, Cousins was suspended for the hit, but Mayo’s comments about Cousins not “wanting it” got us wondering about other guys who have possessed the talent, but not the drive to get the most out of what God blessed them with. Here are five such players, including Cousins himself.

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Johnson hasn’t ever been arrested and never intentionally hit someone in the groin. He’s never come into camp out of shape or been asked to leave a team due to malignant aloofness in the locker room. He wasn’t exactly a fan favorite in Atlanta during his time with the Hawks, but he wasn’t a conspicuous jerk either on or off the court. He’s just sorta blasé when it comes to performing at a level he’s capable of on a night in and night out basis. Sure, even the best superstars have off nights, but Johnson has all the physical gifts and basketball talent to be a superstar; he even has the contract for one. Too bad he’s not.

Sometimes he plays one on TV, but for the most part he’s just an above average off-guard with size and shooting range. Over the last few years, he’s stopped driving to the bucket as much, preferring to ignore his size advantage and jack more than five treys a game. He once averaged 25 points a game over an entire season, and he’s made the last six All-Star Games for the East. This is either the result of his incredible talent or the paucity of off-guards in the Eastern Conference, or more likely, a combination of both. Regardless, he’s never gotten any of his Hawks teams to a conference final (a similar team to the one Al Horford and Josh Smith have led to a 13-6 record and a second place spot in the Southeast Division) and, well, he’s just a good basketball player that’s been steadily declining a little bit over the last couple years. Also, he turned 31 last June, and he’s guaranteed to make $89 million over the next four years.

It’s not Joe Johnson’s fault he’s not what everyone in Atlanta wanted him to be, and it’s not his fault the Hawks decided to give him superstar money without superstar credentials or drive; it’s also not his fault that Brooklyn’s Russian owner decided to take on that contract in a successful bid to keep Deron Williams. None of this is his fault. He’s just not what we all know he could be, and Atlanta fans thought he might be. It’s a shame, but the upside is he shows us just how hard you have to work and how much you have to want to be a superstar. Joe Johnson has all the things a superstar needs: God-given talent, skills that have been honed from years of practice in the gym. He just doesn’t have that “oomph” the best players have: the competitive drive or spirit.

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