Wes Johnson and Martell Webster make the list

Benjamin Polk —  October 18, 2011 — 7 Comments

It seems only right that Martell Webster (231, 4.06) and Wesley Johnson (245, 3.91) are paired so closely together on #NBARank. They are, after all, the two Wolves left standing from David Kahn’s Summer 2010 swingman shopping spree. One irony of this fact is that of the three fellas vying last season to be the Wolves’ regular two–all of whom were young, curiously incomplete (as players) and most likely playing out of position–only Corey Brewer, with his dilated, edge-of-panic defense, had that single upper-echelon skill that separated him from the pack. But Wes Johnson and Martell Webster can shoot and Corey Brewer cannot, not even a little. And for this reason, Corey gets to wear a terribly beautiful, diamond-encrusted, bullet-proof SUV on his ring finger while Wes and Martell will still be logging off-guard minutes for the Wolves next year. Yeah, that part is a little confusing.

On the face of things, Webster and Johnson have a pretty similar profile. Both are 24 years old and vibrantly athletic in the way that only young NBA players and extinct carnivorous birds could possibly be. Both are solid three-point shooters (Webster is a career 37.7% shooter and Johnson hit 35.6% of his in his rookie season) and last season took a large portion of their shots from deep (38.8% for Webster and 42.4% for Johnson, which is kind of high).

But this is pretty superficial. During last preseason, Webster looked like he might become the dynamic scoring two the Wolves craved. He shot threes, but he also attacked the basket and showed off his interior finishing. But then came his back surgery, which left him hobbling around like an old timer, seriously limited his mobility and explosiveness and consigned him to the perimeter for the duration of the year. Most alarming, though, was the injury’s effect on Webster’s defense. The Wolves’ defense was 5.9 points/100 possessions worse when Webster was on the floor, by far the worst differential on the team. According to 82games, when playing the two Webster’s opponent averaged a PER of 21.7 . That means that whenever Martell was at shooting guard, his opposite number was the equivalent, in terms of production, of Manu Ginobili. That hurts. (Major caveat here: with Portland in ’09/’10, Webster played only 1% of his teams shooting guard minutes, spending almost the entire rest of his floor time at three–and his defensive production was significantly better. And Martell also fared considerably better with the Wolves on the rare occasions last year when he played the three.)

Wes Johnson faced problems of an entirely different order. Defensively, he seemed only slightly less wayward than Martell. His physical fitness and defensive energy were almost always beyond reproach, which allowed him some success as an on-ball defender (his late-game swallowing of Monte Ellis was a particular highlight), but when it came to the nuances of team NBA defense–rotations, help, opponent tendencies, pick-and-roll coverage–he was a lost soul. One could certainly blame Jim Boeheim, Johnson’s college coach, whose 2-3 zone seems to serve Syracuse pretty well but sure doesn’t have a knack for turning out great NBA defenders. But in any event, Johnson still has, well, almost everything to learn.

Johnson’s offense was also a cause for a little worry. Maybe because of his wobbly ballhandling, maybe because he, like Webster, is a natural three, Wes seems afflicted with a deep reticence on the offensive end. Yes, he shot three-pointers reasonably well, but that was about all he did; the lingering image of Johnson’s rookie year is him just kind of hanging out past the three point line, threatening nobody. He attempted only 1.9 shots per 40 minutes from inside of 16 feet. He did take 1.1 shots per 40 at the rim, but the bulk of those were in transition. In other words, Johnson’s offensive game was incredibly stagnant and predictable, not to mention inefficient. Thanks largely to his distinct inability to get to the line (he took more than three times as many threes as he did free throws, which is pretty remarkable), his True Shooting percentage was a pretty abysmal 49.1%.

But amazingly, despite that tepid production, the Wolves’ offense was 3.3 points better/100 with Wes on the floor, a number bested only by KLove himself. I have a provisional explanation for this weird phenomenon. First, despite his inexperience in most phases of the game, Johnson moves the ball willingly and with some vision. Second, Johnson was second-to-last on the Wolves in usage last season, ahead of only Anthony Tolliver. He didn’t shoot well, but he also didn’t shoot too much or turn the ball over too prodigiously. On a team with Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph and Jonny Flynn contributing a full portion of heedlessness each, such judicious self-awareness counts as a genuine skill.

 

Benjamin Polk

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7 responses to Wes Johnson and Martell Webster make the list

  1. Wes Johnson, in 2013, is going to be a player that people are going to say, “where did this guy come from?” Maybe not a star, but even 50 games under Adelman is going to have a huge impact on this kid’s career trajectory.

    What he is not is Dwayne Wade lite, or even Dwayne WWW (that’s Dwayne Wade weigh watchers edition), meaning that he isn’t an iso score, a number 1, 2, or 3 option, or a guy who’s going to demand the ball with the game on the line. He will always be utterly dependent on a having a couple of stars around to create lanes and scoring opportunities for him, and I’m OK with that. Because for all the things that Wes isn’t, the things that he is outweigh them all (on the right team).

    Wes is a fantastic glue guy, a guy who makes the extra pass, who can defend, who can rebound, and who can make shots. He may not be the greatest shot creator, but give him a PG like Rubio and tell him to just play off of him and not over think it – watch out. Dude can drain the three AND can dunk over anyone. He’s the kind of guy that you put on Boston or the Mavs and he’d absolutely kill you.

    So perhaps the criticism is valid that a #4 pick shouldn’t be dependent on having at least two really, really good players to play off of, but I see it differently. Really, really good players need guys like Wes to know when to shoot and when to pass, to defend hard and rebound hard and make the other team pay for doubling them all the time. They need a guy who’s willing to sacrifice for the team and sacrifice his own stats in order to keep the flow going. Wes has an upper echelon shooting stroke, and when not saddled with the Rambis offensive role of ‘stand there and shoot threes’ I think he will prove to be a much more valuable player.

    Let’s face it – this team is going to be carried by three players: Love, Williams, and Rubio. However well they can figure out how to play together – masking each other weaknesses, reinforcing their strengths – is going to go a long ways to determining how many games this team will win. Wes? Martell? Tolliver? These guys need to be upper level role players – guys who, for 5-10 minutes a night, can put up a +5 or 10 on other team by capitalizing on the opposition focusing too much on our big three. It is what is, you know?

    AntRand? Beasley? Darko? We’ll see. Top three most likely to get traded right now, or whenever the lockout ends.

  2. Biggity, I think agree with you on most points. It does seem like Wes was, in many ways, unlucky to come out in such a weak draft. If he had been taken 10thh and not ahead of Demarcus Cousins, I don’t think anybody would be too worried about him. I do think, though, that he would be very well served to add a little texture to his offensive game. Even a 4th option perimeter player needs to figure out how to create space for his shot and how to get into the lane. On the other hand, I am hopeful that being coached by a good teacher will make him seem less lost on the floor. Thanks for the great comment.

  3. It seemed to me last year that Wes stood around a lot. The games he was active in, which were only a couple, he made a big impact. When he drove to the basket he looked to pass instead of going to the rim. But it was a good pass. That’s something he can build on. He had a few magical dunks and can shoot. It look to me that he was a little shy in his first year in the league. He always seemed to have an Aw shucks grin on his face. when that wears off I bet he gets to the rim more and scores. Rubio will help with a bunch of Alley’s and that should build confidence during games. I hope that he spent his time wisely this summer and comes back with a lot more confidence. He was supposed to work out with kobe Braynt some this summer. Maybe that still happened with the Lockout it’s hard to tell what’s going on in players lives.

  4. I am having trouble understanding how becoming a solid role player on a young mediocre team and the functional equivalent of 2008 James Posey represents a quantum leap forward for the fourth pick in a draft, or that anyone would be so shocked that Wes Johnson had that kind of upside in him that they would be saying “wow, where did this guy come from??”. That really should be the worst case scenario, one would think. Such aggressively optimistic low expectations. I can honestly tell you as someone who has followed the Wolves since Pooh Richardson was their best player that nobody in the world gives two craps how the fourth option on the Wolves is coming along and if that is Wes Johnson’s raison d’etre he better hope Martell Webster plays well enough for David Kahn to decide he can afford to move Wes to another team.

  5. Why mention Wes in the same sentence as Dwayne Wade? I didn’t see anything in Wes that would even remotely make me think of Wade. Wes was a guy who had 3-4 good games out of 82. Other than that he was mostly uninspired.

  6. My point is is that teams (except the Lynx) don’t have rosters of 4-5 guys who are All-Stars and then some role players thrown in. People have this expectation that Wes should be an amazingly brilliant player in terms of sheer numbers simply because he was the 4th pick of a bad draft. If that’s the way you roll, then good luck. Teams win today because they find the five best guys who can play together, who fit together, and Wes is a guy who can make a bunch of other guys work better.

  7. As an avid Syracuse fan, I became a Timberwolves fan (and an NBA fan) when the Timberwolves drafted Flynn and Johnson. Here’s what I’ve known about Johnson since his year at Syracuse: he’s frustratingly timid, he’s a great defender, and he doesn’t capitalize on his athleticism. Biggity is right that he shouldn’t be thought of as a dissapointing fourth pick. The class was weak and Johnson will never be a prolific player in the NBA. He could be a well above average role player. He needs to use his athleticism to get to the rim more, which he didn’t do enough of at Syracuse either. If the Timberwolves can capitalize on his skill set in these ways: by running pick and rolls to him (so he can dunk on some heads), have him capitalize on open mid range jumpers, and taking less three pointers. He’s a good three point shooter and should take some, but he’d be more efficient if he shot closer shots. As far as other things go (besides offense); Wes is a great defender who can block shots, a good passer, and a good rebounder. Best case scenario Wes could be a 14 pt, 5.5reb, 3 ast, 1blk type of guy. Remember I said best case. Hopefully Don Nelson’s system works out for him.

    Also stop bagging on a guy (Flynn) who had a good rookie season albeit with too many turnovers, broke his hip, and played in a system completely unfit for him. A broken hip is a serious injury for anyone, but especially for an NBA player.

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