James Johnson had a breakthrough performance last season in more ways than one, but his growth as a three-point shooter – when he made a career-high 87 threes and shot a career-best 34 percent from beyond the arc – only made him even more intriguing for the Heat, which made a rather large commitment to him this summer with a four-year, $60 million deal.
So far, the three-pointers just aren’t falling at nearly the same rate for Johnson. He’s opened the season 3-of-17 from three-point range. On the flip side, he’s also been an impressive 72.2 percent shooter (26-of-36) on two-point shots.
Though teams are beginning to sag off Johnson, 30, when he’s open and daring him to shoot instead of allowing him to penetrate, coach Erik Spoelstra wants Johnson to continue to fire it from beyond the arc when he’s open.
“If teams are going to continue to leave him wide open on drive and kicks I have great confidence JJ will start making them pay for that and do it just enough,” Spoelstra said Monday before the Heat (2-3) hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves (3-3). “He doesn’t have to become Steph Curry. It just has to be enough to make it hurt.”
Where Johnson really wreaked havoc last season as a three-point shooter was from the right corner where he was 26-of-54 (48.1 percent). He was an average to poor three-point shooter elsewhere (9-of-35, 25.7 percent from the left corner and 52-of-161, 32.1 percent from above the break).
This season Johnson is 2-of-7 from the right corner (28.6 percent), 1-of-10 from the break (10 percent) and he’s yet to attempt a shot from the left corner.
“They’re just not falling,” Johnson said of his three-point attempts. “It’s just as simple as that. I’m trying to do other things to put my prints on the game. At the same time, I worked on that shot the whole offseason, the whole season. It’s not like they’re not going to start falling, but until they do I have to find other ways to put my prints on the game.”
Johnson clearly has. He filling the boxscore nightly by averaging 14.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. He’s done an even better job finishing near the rim.
Last season Johnson was 240 of 411 in the paint and restricted area combined (58.4 percent). This season, he’s 24 of 29 in the paint and restricted area (82.7 percent).
“A lot of things you work on in the offseason and that one was of the big things of mine, not playing around with the ball in the air, moving it,” Johnson said. “If it gets blocked it gets blocked. If I could punch it, I try punching it. It was that and threes. Now, just one aspect of that is working and I got to get the other aspect rolling. Until then my team’s got my back, they’re confident in my taking them, they want me to take them. They know that nobody wants them to go in more than I do.”
Overall Spoelstra said he’s pleased with how Johnson has played. He wants it to continue.
“I want him to play the game and make the right reads,” Spoelstra said. “I think he’s been making good decisions. He does have a responsibility to make sure we’re getting good shots since the ball is in his hands quite a bit. But he’s made an intentional improvement of finishing at the rim more efficiently.
“He has that ability when dialing it down on the creativity and the degree of difficulty and just finishing. A lot of that just ends up with him dunking over the top of people or just laying it up when he gets to the rim. You don’t get more points on switching hands or doing things. He’s much much better with that.”