Wesley Johnson plays with the grown-ups

Benjamin Polk —  November 15, 2010 — 6 Comments

Photo by Luc De Leeuw

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.

Benjamin Polk

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6 responses to Wesley Johnson plays with the grown-ups

  1. Watched the entirety of last night’s game vs. Bobcats. A team with more composure would have won that game, but I suppose that will come with time. My $.02 on the game was that there are really two teams on the floor when the Wolves have the ball. When the ball ends up in the hands of Beasly or Love, it rarely moves to any other player. It’s as if they only trust each other. Those 2 set picks for one another play basic pick and roll ball. (When the “other” players have the ball, they dribble all over and pass the ball in the triangle until the shot clock is down to 3 seconds and then heave up a shot.) Every so often Love and Beasly tossed the ball over to Wes Johnson, but I doubt they ever fed the ball back to Darko.

  2. I do like Wes, I don’t think he will be a star but I think he’s got some serious Shawn Marion in him, whomever came up with that comparison is literally dead on. Normally these comparisons fall flat once we realize that players are either better or worse than we thought.

    In saying that I think in a good draft Wes would be closer to like an 8-10 pick, but the draft was weak enough where I’m comfortable with the pick. Demarcus Cousins has all the talent in the world but that Sacremento team is about to implode with him as their fearless leader

    Bottom Line: if Beasely is the man like he has been, scoring at will, being a big shot taker (and hopefully soon, maker) then Wes is a great Shawn Marion type side-kick in this run in gun offense (which will be lead by the Rubio-wonder soon)

  3. Its funny that its such an apt comparison since Marion has literally the most broke-looking jumper in history.

    Also, Shawn Marion was really, really good.

  4. I think Johnson has potential to be more as he becomes more and more savvy. He has a pure shot. He just needs to be more confident with the ball. Brewer attempts to be confident every game but doesn’t have the skill. Johnson has it.

    Johnson may not be a superstar but other than Griffin and Wall, he is probably the next best thing out of the draft as far as the wolves go. Time might prove differently but time may also prove that Johnson far far better than we have seen up to this point.

    I’m happy to see that Beas and Love are really comfortable with each other and working together. Wally and KG never had that and that is why that never went to the next level. They went far the year they got something out of Spree and Sammy because they worked together and liked playing together.

    I’m excited for the wolves to get healthy because I think right now we may be playing the worst combination of point guards and centers in the league. Darko had a decent night last night but I can’t even think of who is playing center for the Bobcats at this point.

  5. Well, part of that is because Beasley is the only player (except maaaybe Telfair) who you would be comfortable leaving in an isolation or even two-man-game. They’ve barely scratched the surface of the triangle; they’ve certainly got a long way to go to master the art of integrating a one-on-one player into the triangle, the way the Lakers have with Kobe.

  6. It’ll be interesting to see what happens once Jonny’s back. Before Beasley arrived, he’s the one guy on the team who I’d trust most in one on one iso situations.

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