Why the Houston Rockets probably shouldn’t pursue Tyler Johnson

Tyler Johnson (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Tyler Johnson (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets have been linked to former Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns guard Tyler Johnson, but adding him might not be worth it in the end.

Every year, teams make an effort to bolster their playoff rotations by scouring the dredges of the buyout and waiver market. The latest rumors link the Houston Rockets with the former Phoenix Suns lefty Tyler Johnson.

Waived by the Suns in February, Johnson looks like a shell of the player who earned a $50 million contract and feature for ESPN. The bottom line, though, is if Johnson finds himself playing significant playoff minutes for the Rockets, then something has gone horribly wrong.

The Rockets already have their superstar starting backcourt of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, joined by Eric Gordon, Ben McLemore and Austin Rivers filling in the remaining minutes.

Unless the Rockets are planning on playing five-guard lineups (which is not an impossibility), Tyler Johnson wouldn’t be playing more than a few minutes per game. The truth is, even a few minutes per game from Johnson should not be in the Rockets’ best-laid plans.

Tyler Johnson was one of the biggest benefactors of the NBA’s salary-cap spike in the summer of 2016. Tendered a four-year, $50 million contract by the New Jersey Nets, the Miami Heat matched the offer to retain their up-and-coming guard. In the four years since then, Johnson has seen his play decline precipitously.

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The best version of Tyler Johnson is when he’s a score-first combo guard. Not a difference-maker defensively and a pedestrian playmaker, Johnson’s value is in his ability to get buckets, and recently he has struggled mightily to do so.

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For most of his career, he has been an above-average 3-point shooter, but in 2019-20, after five consecutive seasons of declining accuracy, he’s sitting at a career-low 28.9 percent. The decline in Johnson’s shooting began in Miami, but his troubles escalated when he was traded to Phoenix in February of 2018.

In Miami, Johnson went from an undrafted G-Leaguer on a 10-day contract to a contributor for two playoff teams. During his tenure in South Beach, he averaged 11 points per game on 43.7 percent shooting. Hardly an All-Star, but worlds better than the 7.3 points per game on 37.5 percent shooting he managed in Phoenix.

Only 27 years old, Johnson should be entering his prime, but instead looks like he’s fading out of the league. The silver lining for Johnson, and any team who acquires him, is his struggles might be linked to his injury.

Arthroscopic surgery ended Johnson’s 2018-19 season when dealt with a right knee issue that caused him to miss almost a month of games. Over a year removed from surgery, Johnson has had ample time to recover.

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If he can regain his form from his Miami days, Johnson could be a useful bench contributor. If not, he’ll do fine at keeping a seat warm. The Rockets could benefit from more guard depth — it’s just that Tyler Johnson might not be the depth you want to have to use.