Tyler Johnson will have bigger role for depleted Nets

The Nets’ impressive backcourt was decimated, and that was before James Harden suffered a neck injury.

Tyler Johnson — in the midst of his most efficient season in years — will surely be asked to step up when his number is called by Nets coach Steve Nash. But he knows that doesn’t mean trying to step into Harden’s MVP-sized shoes.

“Steve and I haven’t really talked about minutes per se, but it’s a game-to-game basis,” Johnson said before the Nets tipped off a three-game road trip Tuesday in Portland. “I think right now during this little stretch while we’ve got some guys out, we don’t fully know what it is we’re going to do right away.

“So, I’ll be ready to play when my number’s called, and sometimes it might be somebody else’s turn to get a lot of minutes. I can’t really get too caught up or focused on that. I have a job to do and I’ve just got to go out there and do that.”

Spencer Dinwddie (partially torn ACL), Kyrie Irving (family reasons) and Landry Shamet (ankle sprain) are all out. And with Harden nursing a neck injury that had him questionable Tuesday, the Nets’ backcourt will not only be woefully shorthanded but potentially downright threadbare.

Tyler Johnson
Tyler Johnson
NBAE via Getty Images

“Just next-man-up mentality. You get too caught up in thinking what you don’t have,” Johnson said. “It’s just important to make sure that when we’re out there we’re confident and we go out there and try to win. It’s not just we’re going out there and trying to compete, we’re trying to get Ws.”

Harden came into Portland averaging 25.4 points, 11.3 assists and 8.8 rebounds for the Nets. That’s production that Johnson and Bruce Brown can’t possibly try to replicate.

“A lot of it is going to be by committee,” Johnson said. “We’ve got guys who can help make plays. Jeff [Green] can play that little point-forward role. And for me, it’s just make the right play. It’s not going to be getting too caught up in ‘Oh, I’ve got to change my game to this or that.’

“It’s ‘I come off a pick-and-roll, make the read.’ And then if I’m in the corner and I spot up, or have a catch-and-go or whatever, it’s just making the right read. You take a lot of pressure off yourself if you go in with the idea that when there’s a play to be made, I’m going to make it. I’m not going to go out and try and replace James Harden; that’d be counterproductive, to say the least.”

Johnson has been productive off the bench. After starting the season out of the rotation, his grit, improved defense and surprising consistency have endeared him to the coaching staff.

“Tyler’s a winner,” Nash said. “He competes, he fights, he plays hard, he sticks his nose in there defensively. He leaves it all on the floor. We knew he can shoot; we thought he was a guy who can get hot and he’s not afraid, but he’s been really consistent with it this year, and that’s been outstanding. So, proud of him.

“He started the season out of the rotation. … It’s been great to see him play. Just fun watching him, the way he competes, and the force and energy he gives our team. The shooting is the cherry on top, but the rest of the stuff is what we really love about Tyler: the competition, the fight, the energy.”

Johnson said he’s improved his consistency, and his Net Rating (plus-7.7), Offensive Rating (117.8), plus-minus (2.4), effective FG percentage (.550) and 3-point shooting (.408) are all the best in his career.

“I haven’t really ever had James Harden and Kyrie Irving passing me the ball and taking so much attention with them. It’s kind of easy shooting open shots,” Johnson said with a grin. “If you’re putting in the work to be a good shooter and you’re confident, then you’re going to be effective while you’re out there.”