Veteran point guard
Avery Johnson's NBA
career is a testament to persistence. Johnson, despite setting a NCAA
record for assists per game in his senior year, went undrafted after his senior year.
Johnson was considered to be undersized (at 5-foot-11) for the NBA, and was not a very good shooter or scorer. He went to the USBL to play for the Palm Beach Stingrays, and on the strength of his play there, was signed by the Seattle SuperSonics before the start of the 1989 season. He spent two years buried on the Seattle bench before he was traded to the Denver Nuggets for a second-round draft pick. He saw little use in Denver and was released six weeks into the season. Johnson then did his first tour of duty with the San Antonio Spurs, which also resulted in his release. Johnson also played briefly for the Houston Rockets before signing a one-year deal with San Antonio for the 1993 season. Given a chance to start in San Antonio, he averaged 8.7 points and 7.5 assists that year, but the Spurs did not offer him another contract, and he ended up signing a one-year deal with the Golden State Warriors. Johnson enjoyed continued success with Golden State, while the Spurs struggled offensively, and lost in the first round of the playoffs. So, for a third time, San Antonio signed Johnson, this time to a long-term deal, and Johnson settled in behind the controls of a Spurs team that would enjoy many playoff successes.
Johnson's contributions have never been of the statistical variety. In his best season, 1996, he averaged 13.1 points and 9.6 assists. The Spurs' offense relies heavily on the postup games of David Robinson, and later of Tim Duncan. For a post player to be successful, it is imperative that they receive the ball in the right place at the right time. Robinson and Duncan are unable to initiate their own offense from the perimeter, and Johnson has proved to be extremely effective at getting them the ball inside.
In 1999, Johnson was a key contributor to the Spurs' championship team, which beat the New York Knicks in five games. Johnson's shooting, much improved from his earlier days, was one of the reasons the Spurs won. Opposing defenses collapsed on Robinson and Duncan, leaving Johnson open to shoot.
For the 2001 season, Johnson lost his starting job to Antonio Daniels, and had one of his poorest seasons ever. He became a free agent and in the offseason, the Denver Nuggets signed him to back up their star point guard, Nick Van Exel.
Avery Johnson, throughout his career, has been a steady playmaker who rarely ever turns the ball over. His game is somewhat conservative, he is best as a halfcourt point guard. His teams rarely run fast breaks. Over the years he has developed an effective outside shot from 18 feet. He is not a good three-point shooter, but does not often try to take them. Defensively, he is only average, and has slipped somewhat. At only 5-11, he has problems defending larger guards, and does not get very many steals, but does record a surprising number of blocked shots for such a small player.
UPDATE: In the middle of the 2002 season, Johnson was dealt to the Dallas Mavericks along with Nick Van Exel and Raef LaFrentz; as the Mavs' third-string point guard, he sees very little floor time.