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Joe Johnson seems to become more important to the overall fate of the Utah Jazz with each passing day.
This isn't breaking news. Johnson was brought to the Jazz as a free agent to be a key figure off Quin Snyder's bench. The mild surprise is where Johnson is becoming that key figure. It isn't at the wing spot, his dominant position for 15 years. It's at the power forward spot, a position where persistent injury has done significant damage.
"I feel like I'm getting better and more comfortable in time," Johnson said. "I think we're working on matchups consistently, day in and day out in practice. And I think it's playing out on the floor."
With mainstay Derrick Favors in and out of the lineup due to knee pain this season, the Jazz have had to piece together production at his position from several sources. The Jazz defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 104-88 on Wednesday night, a game where Johnson's versatility and production consistently were on display.
He was able to score from the perimeter. He got to the basket and scored in the paint. He showed his superior ability to handle the ball when he executed a nasty crossover that left Milwaukee forward Jabari Parker lunging. In all, Johnson scored 14 points off the bench while grabbing six rebounds and handing out five assists.
Johnson slowly is getting more comfortable with the Jazz and vice versa. Johnson is gaining more of an understanding where he fits in with Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood as the season progresses. The Jazz are getting more comfortable with Johnson's talents, where he likes the ball and the spots where he is the most effective.
The Jazz ran their offense against the Bucks through Johnson in large stretches when Hayward was on the bench, giving Johnson the ball at the elbow 15 feet from the basket and letting him do his thing. Johnson's nickname through his career has been "Iso Joe." But he's been different this season, setting others up. He's been a playmaker when the Jazz have needed one.
"It's almost like we sometimes forget about Joe until he makes a great shot, or in this case has a great game," Snyder said. "With the injuries on the wing, the opportunity for Joe to play minutes at the four hasn't been as prevalent. But the times that he's done it, he's done it very well. When he plays the four for us, he's a playmaker more than a stretch. He's known for creating shots for himself, but he's taken that threat and created for other people."
The playoffs are still a little more than two months away. But Johnson's presence as a playmaking power forward could prove useful if the Jazz reach their first postseason since 2012.
Johnson playing more at the four spot is a natural progression. The Jazz have a bunch of wings that all demand minutes with their play. Favors has been hobbled and not himself for much of the season, and Utah needs another playmaker to take pressure off Hayward, Hood and George Hill.
Plus, Johnson's physical size has helped defensively at the four spot. He guarded Parker effectively in spots Wednesday night.
And while Johnson probably shouldn't play 30 minutes a night in the regular season as a 35-year-old, he can play heavier minutes in the playoffs because games are spread out more in the postseason.
"He's just been versatile for us and does so many different things," Hayward said. "He's been really really good for us this year. He's a spacer, he can get into the lane and take advantage of mismatches. He allows us defensively to switch. He's big enough to disallow post matchups, and quick enough to stay with guards on the perimeter."
Age • 35
NBA seasons • 15
College • Arkansas
Minutes per game • 22.2
Points per game • 8.2
Rebounds per game • 3