Wesley Johnson plays with the grown-ups
It really shouldn’t be surprising that the fourth pick in the NBA draft is playing well. I mean, there’s probably a reason people thought he was really good, right? But when it comes to the draft, we Wolves lovers have gotten used to taking solace in what other people take for granted. After all, we can still faintly hear the voices of Shaddy, and Randy Foye and Ndudi Ebi (and so many others) echoing through the halls.
And even for us, I guess it isn’t too much of a shock that Wes Johnson is hitting that gorgeous jumper of his. (In the past three games, Wes has hit 15 of his 25 shots and seven of his 15 threes.) I mean, have you watched him shoot this thing? His body is lithe and quiet; no motion is wasted; all is in balance. The ball passes through the basket with that clean, forceful snap common to natural shooters.
What has been pleasantly surprising has been Johnson’s composure and patience in adapting to this new level of play. Many rookies, such as Wes’ pal Jonny Flynn last year, attempt to compensate for their inexperience by incautiously forcing themselves on the game. But for the most part, Johnson has been energetic but under control, playing within the offense, allowing the game to come to him.
It’s true that Johnson’s offensive game is still fairly static; his ball-handling lags far behind his other skills and prevents him from being much more than a spot up shooter. But his court vision and intuition have been impressive. He’s made up for his one-dimensional scoring with a knack for the deft interior pass. One moment in Atlanta nearly encapsulated Johnson’s season so far. After a long rebound, Sebastian Telfair spotted Johnson gracefully bounding down the right wing and hit him with a chest pass. Wes bobbled it, gathered it in, bobbled it again and then calmly hit Michael Beasley flashing through the lane for an easy two. If Wes could have somehow topped it off with one of those pure, towering threes, the picture would have been complete.
It’s also clear that Wes is just learning to negotiate the complex web of switches, rotations and hedges that make NBA defense such a puzzle. He occasionally gets lost attempting to work around screens; he occasionally gets caught with his head turned; he’s occasionally late to close out on shooters. But the energy and nerve (not to mention that long, elastic body) he brought to the tasks of guarding the likes of Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant reveal a player willing to extend adult-level effort and unbowed by his new context.
So again we’ve got: a rookie with the skills and athletic ability to make elite NBA plays and the intelligence and patience to know his own limitations and find his niche in the game. Good enough for me.