Hassan Whiteside believes James Johnson should be in ‘All-Defense conversation.’ What do the numbers say?

Indiana Pacers forward C.J. Miles (0) drives the ball around the defense of Miami Heat forward James Johnson (16) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 12, 2017, in Indianapolis. The Indiana Pacers won, 102-98.(AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

MIAMI — James Johnson may not be getting the national attention he deserves, but he is getting plenty of love from his teammates.

From one teammate, especially.

“JJ is No. 1 in the NBA in iso defense,” Heat center Hassan Whiteside said. “Why does nobody know that? He’s the best iso defender, go look it up. You all like numbers so he should be a first-team All-Defensive guy to me. Nobody talks about it. We have a ton of guys that’s just amazing defenders. I just used him because he’s No. 1 in the NBA. A lot of people would be like Kawhi Leonard or Draymond (Green). No, James Johnson is No. 1.”

Whiteside is correct.

Johnson leads the NBA in opponent field goal percentage in isolation situations this season. He’s limiting players to 5-of-32 shooting (15.6 percent) when they play isolation basketball against him.

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But Johnson isn’t just an above average isolation defender.

The 30-year-old forward has also been a quality overall defender this season. He ranks seventh in the NBA among players who have played at least 40 games, limiting players to 39.4 percent shooting.

“I think it’s just our team defense, our team concepts,” Johnson said when asked about his defensive play. “It’s about being in the right spot at the right time and sticking to your defensive details. I just end up being where I’m supposed to be just trying to make a play and make myself vulnerable out there. I jump for everything regardless of what the end result is.”

Despite being a bench player and averaging 26.6 minutes per game, Johnson’s defensive impact is obvious. Among those who have played 27 minutes per game or fewer this season, he ranks seventh with 0.041 defensive win shares (a player statistic that attempts to divide credit for team success to the individuals on the team).

One of Johnson’s most valuable traits as a defender is his ability to guard multiple positions. Listed at 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds, Johnson is comfortable defending guards and forwards and has even found himself on centers multiple times this season.

That versatility was on display in Wednesday’s win over New Orleans as Johnson spent his minutes defending the Pelicans’ All-Star frontcourt of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

“James Johnson continues to show his versatility and how important that is for this basketball team on both ends of the court,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He took the challenge of guarding those two guys. Basically all the minutes he was out there, he was guarding one of those two guys. To be able to have a wing player step up to that kind of challenge says a lot about him.”

There was one particular play with four minutes remaining in Wednesday’s game against New Orleans that highlighted Johnson’s defensive ability. Johnson spent about 10 seconds battling with the 6-foot-11 Cousins in the post, fronting him and denying the post pass, and eventually helped force a shot-clock violation.

But this isn’t a surprise to Whiteside. It just confirms what he already knew.

“Y’all got to look up the numbers on defense, but he should be in the All-Defense conversation,” Whiteside said of Johnson. “All-Defensive team, he’s an All-Defensive team guy. I don’t feel like he gets enough credit for his defense. I feel like if he was on another team that was on ESPN, we would be talking about it all day. But I feel like he’s an All-Defensive guy.”

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