One of the biggest stories of the Miami Heat offseason revolved around Miami’s decision to match the Brooklyn Nets’ four-year, $50 million dollar offer sheet to guard Tyler Johnson.
Johnson, who had started only seven games and appeared in 68 over his first two NBA seasons, drew the attention of several teams as a restricted free agent, forcing the Heat to be proactive in their desire to retain him. The 24-year-old had averaged 7.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game over those two years, causing some to question whether Johnson can live up to the value of his large contract.
In the first year of his new deal, Johnson is earning his $5.6 million salary, particularly when his statistics are viewed alongside players that are making the same (or a similar) salary. This season, the former Fresno State star has appeared in 37 games, averaging 31 minutes per contest. Despite having yet to start a game, Johnson has seen a sizable improvement in several statistical categories. His per-game scoring average has jumped from 8.7 in his sophomore season to 13.9 this year, a jump of 5.2. Johnson has also increased his rebounding, jumping from 3.0 boards to 4.5, and his 3.2 assists this season represent a one-assist-a-game improvement from the previous year.
Johnson’s advanced statistics also indicate that the third-year guard is making major strides. Despite a nearly five-percent drop from his 57.9 percent true-shooting percentage in 2015-16 and a drop in offensive rebound percentage, Johnson has improved in nearly every other category. He has seen an increase from 13.8 to 16 in PER, from 7.2 to 7.9 in rebound percentage, 13.9 to 16.5 in assist percentage, 2.0 to 2.9 in overall win shares and has also cut his turnover percentage in half, dropping from 14.8 in 2015-16 to 7.4 this season.
Two players in the league currently make the same amount of money as Tyler Johnson, Jared Sullinger of the Toronto Raptors and Wesley Johnson of the Los Angeles Clippers. Sullinger, who is the same age as Tyler Johnson, has yet to play this season after having surgery on his foot. Johnson, on the other hand, has started three of the 34 games he has appeared in for the Clippers and is averaging 3.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.5 assists per game in 13.4 minutes, all numbers that significantly trail Tyler Johnson’s totals. He also trails Miami’s guard in PER, true shooting percentage, turnover percentage, win shares, assist percentage and steal percentage.
Two other notable NBA veterans, Tony Allen from the Grizzlies and Nick Young of the Lakers, make just under what Tyler Johnson is making this season. Johnson’s numbers compare favorably to both Allen’s and Young’s season statistics, with Johnson sporting a higher PER than both players.
In an effort to dissuade Miami from matching Brooklyn’s contract offer, Johnson’s contract was constructed under the league’s “poison pill” provision, meaning that his salary will jump to a staggering $18.9 million in the third year of the deal, and $19.6 million the following season. NBA players with similar annual salaries include Paul Millsap, Ryan Anderson, Allen Crabbe, Paul George and Luol Deng. Though it is hard to envision Johnson producing at the same rate as George or Millsap, the case can be made that he is already outperforming Anderson, Crabbe and Deng.
With clear signs of improvement and the potential for an expanded role in the future, early returns indicate that Miami, at least for two seasons, will get good value out of Tyler Johnson’s contract.