You have a game tomorrow. Do you take Russell Westbrook or Joe Johnson?
That was the text message last night. (This is what a business dinner with the Dime crew can turn into.) And I already know how most people will answer the question, so I’ll just get right into defending the other side.
I would take Joe Johnson. Why? Because if I don’t know yet who else is on my team for this hypothetical game, I do know that I need a primary scorer and a go-to man in the clutch. And Joe Johnson performs that part of the job better than Westbrook.
I know Westbrook (22.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 8.5 apg, 1.9 spg) has had a better season. I know he makes the highlight reels and cranks out triple-doubles. I know his team has a better win-loss record in a tougher conference. I know he’s younger. I know he didn’t jut sign a $120 million contract, then get off to a slow start this season. I know Westbrook might sit higher in the ranking of NBA point guards than Johnson (20.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 5.4 apg) ranks among shooting guards, and if he doesn’t, it’s only because there aren’t as many great two-guards in the League today as there are great point guards.
But in this situation, I’d still take Johnson. He is a legit go-to scorer, a player who has led his team to back-to-back conference semifinal appearances rather than helping lead a team to a first-round exit once. Westbrook has been great in part because he fills in the holes for Oklahoma City that Kevin Durant cannot. Johnson has been great because his game dictates where Atlanta’s strengths and weaknesses lie.
And if this hypothetical game is tomorrow, than Johnson is the pick because he is arguably the hottest player in the NBA today. In the month of January, he averaged 26 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the floor, to go with 4.8 assists while the Hawks went 9-4.
Also, as good as Westbrook has been, he has high potential to eventually sink OKC with his horse-blinders style in clutch moments. Often he has it real bad with only looking for his own shot when Durant is either unavailable or not open to receive the ball. Westbrook puts his head down, makes his moves, and usually gets a pull-up jumper that is not yet wholly reliable.
Joe Johnson, meanwhile, is a cool and experienced clutch performer. He keeps his head up, and if he doesn’t have the best shot, is in position to find someone with a better shot. He has reliable moves to get the shots he wants, and whether at the rim or from 25 feet away, he hits those shots in when the defense isn’t keying on the NBA scoring leader at his side.
Who would you want on your team for one game tomorrow?