C.J. Watson would be a solid pickup, but Anthony Johnson will forever go down as underappreciated

There’s no question that — as purely a basketball player — any knowledgeable person would agree that C.J. Watson is better than Anthony Johnson. Watson would beat Johnson in one-on-one, all 30 teams would prefer Watson over Johnson, and Watson is a decade younger. But how much of an improvement will Watson provide over Johnson as the Orlando Magic’s backup point guard? Johnson received a lot of criticism from Magic fans throughout last season, and much of it was undeserved. He knew his role and provided a lot of energy and enthusiasm off the bench. He didn’t light the world on fire, but I thought Magic fans were expecting a little too much out of a point guard who backs up an all-star. That said, the Magic were undoubtedly a better team with either Rafer Alston or Jameer Nelson on the floor. The Magic averaged 112.7 points per 100 possessions with Johnson off the floor — and only 107.9 when he was on it. The man is 34 years old and entering his 13th NBA season, so the Magic were surely in their right mind to attempt an upgrade. Watson certainly provides that with his ability to score and create offense. But the difference may not be as wide as you think. Consider the following facts from last season, when both players were backup point guards on their respective teams:

  • Per 48 minutes, Johnson averaged 6.5 assists and his opponent averaged 6.2 assists. Watson put up 5.3 assists and allowed 9.9 assists to the opposing point guard.
  • Watson’s advantage in eFG% was .500 to .472 — that’s hardly astonishing, especially when you consider that Johnson created more opportunities for others.
  • Johnson’s hands rating was a tenth higher than Watson’s last season, meaning their handles are essentially the same. All that being said, Watson is certainly a better option for this Magic team. This is just a last-ditch attempt to defend Johnson, who I believe has been shafted by Magic fans since his arrival in Orlando. Watson had a much-higher PER, turned the ball over less, was more active in creating turnovers and provided a far-more consistent offensive player than Johnson — Watson is going to be a great fit, if the Warriors don’t match. He’s used to playing in an up-tempo style after spending a couple years with the Warriors, and he plays a lot like a poor man’s Jameer Nelson by shooting well from the outside and being a natural scorer at heart. Even though the Warriors have an influx at point guards, Watson is a guy they like in Golden State. This from the Bay Area News Group:

    Though the Warriors drafted celebrated point guard Stephen Curry and acquired two point guards in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks, Watson is not deterred. Watson has earned the trust of the coaching staff, the respect of his teammates and the support of the fans. While the Warriors were beset with injuries last season, Watson proved to be a reliable backup, averaging 9.5 points and 2.7 assists in 24.5 minutes.

    And like Nelson, Watson is cool. From the American Chronicle:

    His expression never changes. No matter when you see him or what the conversation is, Watson has that same wide-eyed, boyish look and innocent smile every time. Doesn’t matter whether he’s just knocked a tooth out of Joakim Noah’s mouth or hit a game-winning 3-pointer. Or, for that matter, learned that his NBA team, the Golden State Warriors, drafted Davidson super guard Stephen Curry with the seventh overall pick in the draft. … “They can draft who they want to draft,” said Watson, who started out with the Warriors in January of 2008 and played a whole season last year. “It doesn’t matter, because it’s all about competing and working hard.”

    It’s unclear what will happen with the Watson situation. We’ll have more in the coming days.

  • Philip Rossman-Reich

    About Philip Rossman-Reich

    Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily