Wolves 106, Blazers 94: Where is Wes Johnson and what have you done with him?

Zach Harper —  March 8, 2012 — 38 Comments

Do you remember the Wolves-Lakers game in March from last season?

The Wolves didn’t know it yet, but they were in the early stages of a 15-game losing streak to end the season and clinch the worst record in the NBA. What stood out that game was Wes Johnson went off against Kobe Bryant. He scored early and he scored often, totaling 29 points on 11/21 shooting. Kobe had an off night, partly due to Wes’ defense on him, scoring just 18 points on 7/16 shooting. It was a beacon of hope at the end of a tumultuous season.

Then this season happened and Wes has been so bad shooting the basketball that people (myself included) wonder why he’s even out there. His confidence has seemed shot and he wasn’t attacking the basket like he promised before the season started. 

Last night, he finally broke through his shooting slump and that beacon all of a sudden was a little brighter once again. He claims the shots were just falling this time, but his shooting motion looked altered like a fine Italian suit. There seemed to be less motion and noise getting the ball cocked back to fire. It was quicker and more compact. There wasn’t any hesitation or doubt that he should be shooting the ball. The result was confidence throughout the game and a quicker step than the mopey saunter that we’re used to after a few bad misses.

His catch-and-shoot motion may have changed but it didn’t change when he was taking shots off the dribble. It looked like the same slower release, except this time he had some assurance coursing through his veins. Give a player confidence that his shot will fall and you’ll see a new man. You’ll see someone that doesn’t believe anyone in front of him can deter the scoring surge that is about to smack down on their forehead.

Wes Johnson is definitely one of those players whose play is contingent on momentum. He has to be moving forward in order to be moving at all. Luke Ridnour isn’t like this one bit. Over the last couple of days, Wolves fans have been pondering whether Luke Ridnour might be expendable if it means bringing in a real live scorer like Jamal Crawford to the shooting guard slot. Normally, this would be a no-brainer because it’s just Luke Ridnour. However, Luke reminded us tonight just how valuable he can be.

He started off the game hot with a couple of 3-pointers that found the bottom of the net. He also ended the game with nine points in the fourth quarter to help extend the lead and put the Blazers away. In the middle, he just kept moving the ball, guarding bigger players like Wes Matthews, Jamal Crawford, and Nicolas Batum. He constantly got in the way on defense and still found a feathery touch to drop points on the Blazers at the other end of the floor. He’s been capable of mucking up the defensive end of the floor while keeping things nice and tidy on offense from the shooting guard position.

How many point guards in this league can do that on a nightly basis?

The 41 combined points from Luke and Wes were huge and allowed the Wolves to survive without Nikola Pekovic on the floor. It also meant that Kevin Love didn’t have to go for roughly 40 points in order for the Wolves to win. His 29 and 16 effort was enough to keep LaMarcus Aldridge in foul trouble for the second straight game against the Wolves.

Love did everything in this game. He started out slinging the ball into the basket like there was nobody else in the gym. 15 points and 6/7 shooting in the first quarter to put the Blazers on notice that it was going to be another long night of stretching out the floor to guard him. In the second and third quarter, he owned the boards with 11 and even facilitated the offense with three assists in the third period. In the fourth, he finished off his night at the free throw line and by playing really good interior defense.

Love seems to get better and better with each week of the season. His leadership on the floor is pretty impressive and his ability to get the best of some of the top power forwards in the NBA is not something I would have thought possible two years ago. But he can’t do it alone and it took another stellar effort from the role players stepping up.

Before his ankle injury, Barea had seven assists off the bench (by the way, now the Wolves definitely can’t deal Luke for Crawford with Barea out). Derrick Williams shot the ball poorly but he made up for it with 11 rebounds of his own. Luke filled up the points column in the stat sheet and Martell came in for 10 points in 20 minutes.

The story of the game though for me is Wes. I don’t know that this is a point of galvanization for the rest of his season. He didn’t look terrible last year after the Corey Brewer trade, but you also can’t just see one great shooting performance by him and assume the worst is behind him.

If the change in his motion that I think I see is actually there, it could help him feel much more comfortable shooting those corner 3s that he is always open for. The Wolves shouldn’t stop exploring trades for wing help because of Wes last night, but if we can see this kind of performance every three or four games instead of every month then a deal isn’t necessary for this team to make the playoffs.

By the way, this Wolves team is currently residing in the eighth seed of the playoffs, thanks to the tiebreaker over Houston right now. After last season, would you have guessed we’d be in this position right now?

Where is our Wolves team and what have you done with them? Actually, never mind. This is fun.

Zach Harper

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38 responses to Wolves 106, Blazers 94: Where is Wes Johnson and what have you done with him?

  1. I’m worried that Kahn is going to muck it up. Why make a trade when it looks like this team is going to make the playoffs any ways? We are not going to win a championship by trading Ridnour. And getting a late 1st rounder for Beasley isn’t going to help this season and will most likely hurt since he does come in and make difference. All of this can be worked out over the summer and I would say better deals lay ahead. The draft looks deep and teams who pick up a young guy in the draft will have to decide to let vetrans go at the same position. Plus as the confidence on this team grows by game to game the stock on some players will rise. A super star at the 2 is not walking through that door on the 15th. I say wait.

  2. Eric in Madison March 8, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Last 7 games the Wolves are 63-150 from 3. That’s 42% on over 21 attempts a game. Zach, you jolted them out of their shooting doldrums by suggesting they stop shooting. Well done, sir.

    Ah variance. You giveth, and you taketh away.

  3. Eric, if you can get a first for Beasley then you have to do it. I’d rather force Derrick Williams into filling Beasley’s role than to keep him around.

  4. Eric in Madison, I’m going to take full credit for that even though it had nothing to do with me. Reverse jinx?

  5. Eric in Madison March 8, 2012 at 11:32 am

    It was a perfect reverse jinx. What was so sweet about it was that it took effect immediately. The very next night, they beat Utah in significant part by going 11-22 from 3, and they took off from there.

    In the meantime, Beasley. They need to find a landing spot for him by the deadline. He seems pretty checked out, and obviously he’s barely hanging in the rotation.

  6. Great article. One thing I have noticed when Wes is in his zone and shooting well is that he moves extremely well without the ball. He can be seen winding and weaving through the floor looking to get open to get the pass and make a shot. He simply just does not do this when he is “off” so to speak. It seems like he is trying to hide when he is feeling inadequate. Kind of like scared in a sense. But when he is on, he has that killer instinct and his athletic abilities can be seen in full force. He is young and mental preparation is a learning experience. Just like his young team, they will have their ups and their downs. As far as a trade? Why? Why ruin any sort of chemistry this team has right now? Lets take this roster through a full season and at the end figure out what pieces need to be filled and take a look at the draft and free agency and go from there? Dont worry about Beasley becoming a free agent. Either way, he will come at a bargain price. The Wolves need to seriously consider signing him and locking up that 6th man for a few more years.

  7. i hate talking body language, but i have to admit wes’s looked good last night. instead of grinnin’ in our face (shoutout to son house), he looked locked in and ready to go. instead of smiling after a dunk, smiling after a turnover, smiling after a make, smiling after a miss, and smiling when the crowd was starting to boo him, he just played basketball. hope he builds on it.

  8. Regarding Beasley: I read rumors that the Celtics are interested in him, and the price on Ray Allen’s head is “young talent plus future draft picks.” What is your take on the potential for a “Beasley + ________ for Ray Allen” trade? A lineup of Rubio, Allen, Johnson/Williams, Love, and Pek sounds pretty good to me! Your thoughts?

  9. Derek, I think it would take at least Derrick Williams to bring in Ray Allen. Don’t see them doing it just for Beasley.

  10. I think thats too much for Ray Allen. First off, Allen is in his last year and will be a UFA next season will Beasley is a RFA making in much easier to resign. Second, Allen is going to retire in a few short years, Beasley is young and has the potential to be an All-Star if he gets his issues worked out. Third, the chances of Beasley resigning with Boston are much better than Allen resigning with Minnesota. I have a feeling that Allen wouldn’t stick around here after his contract is up. If this trade were to happen it should be a straight up trade.

  11. Wait, why are people pretending like Michael Beasley should be in the long-term plans? This is baffling to me. Are we watching the same guy?

  12. In the NBA, “young talent” means players whose contracts are under control of the team, not players who are going to be free agents at the end of the season. So I doubt you can do Beasley + _______ for Ray Allen unless the + were someone like Rubio or Pekovic. Not gonna happen and not worth it, anyway.

  13. I’m not saying he should be in our long term plans. I just think its too much to give up for Ray Allen. How would D-Will for Ray Allen make sense? Allen is a HOF player on the tail end of his career, but is in no way worth D-Will. Straight up for Beasley or throw in a second round pick, but a future first is way too much especially since we don’t have one of those this season.

  14. Also think its important to note how much Wes’ defense, rebounding and overall energy improved along with his shooting last night. The previous few games he really did not look like he wanted to be out there at all.

  15. Corey is right. Beasley is a good enough shooter from outside. That is all we would ask for from Allen and we only get a year. I wouldnt make that trade. Go Wolves

  16. I’m officially off the Trade-B-Easy Bandwagon. He’s a goofball, but he’s 23, meaning that the frontal lobe is just now becoming a fully coherent part of his nervous system. I will go so far as to say that the speed, ease and grace with which he can score is simply elite; people underestimate how freakin’ fast he is, and the way that he stops and shoots under control at that kind of velocity is really impressive. NBA players peak at about age 30, and yet the NBA is blindly obsessed with youth, while the Spurs, Celtics, Lakers and Mavs collect rings. At worst, Beasley will be an exciting 6th man into his 30s. Say a pick in the 15-30 range comes along in exchange for Beas (you get lucky and get Faried; or maybe you get Babbitt), why should we think that this person will outperform Beasley who, even erratic, is a known quantity? He may someday put it together on a regular basis; or not; but I’d take the chance if the staying price is reasonable. Plus, think about it, he’s had two chances to work things out, and these consist of being a rookie bogart trying to find his way in the shadow of D-Wade, and then two years of Kurt Rambis; and in both of these experiments he was at least serviceable. And his defense may improve through coaching and maturity. Remember the Lover (age 23), he still isn’t elite on D, but he is *sooooo* much better than even last year. Zgoda constantly refers to B-Easy as the most raw talent on the team, and those runs where he puts in eight straight are indeed breathtaking. As for other trade rumors, the only one worth it would be the one that is reasonably likely to take us deep into the playoffs, and I haven’t heard about that one yet. I like the theory about going hard after Batum or a similar talent when the season ends.

  17. Off topic… but does steph currys injuries make his price go down and have you heard his name at all as far as wolves being interested? Rubio Curry Williams Love Pek

  18. I know you want Beasley gone Zach, ( and there are valid points too,) but I agree with J Lo. Giving him up for what is out there doesn’t make a lot since. He still comes in and get’s you points easier then anythnig out there we could get for him. He will be cheap and if he produce next year or comes around at the end of this year his stock only goes up for a bigger trade. I know he is frustrating but he doesn’t seem to be hampering the teams devolpment. It seems like they are getting rid of him just to be rid of him. There are games where he does get it. Guys like him are hard to find.

  19. http://www.WolveSwag.com – Ricky Rubio Possible Alternative Occupations

  20. J Lo, I like what you’re saying about Beasley. So should they trade Williams instead? It doesn’t seem sensible to keep both, and Williams has double the trade value, even if his ceiling seems lower.

    It seems counterintuitive, but it may be the right choice.

  21. Ivan Kronkvist March 8, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Oh, if it was Zgoda that said it it must be true right? He writes fora newspaper so he would know, right?
    Trading Beasley wouldn’t upset the team chemistry. It would improve it. I think we should try to sell high on Wes now before the next game. No way he can keep this up even two games in a row.

  22. Eric in Madison March 8, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Beasley is losing minutes pretty quickly . He also looks pretty disinterested, but maybe that’s just me. The real problem is money: they can’t afford to make him the qualifying offer (over $8M), because he might actually take it.

    I want everyone on the Wolves to just get it too, but that’s not how it works. The fact that Wes Johnson had a big game last night means he had a big game last night, it doesn’t fundamentally change what he is as a player, which is, well, bad. Same thing with Milicic against the Clips; good for him that he made a few, but that’s all it is.

    It seems pretty clear that Beasley is on his way out the door. It’s time for someone else to try to get what they can out of him.

  23. sounds like everyone sees the BEAS they want to see..if we could trade him for Ray Allen that would rock, and i don’t agree or understand the thing about Allen wouldn’t want to be here.. why? we’re better than the celtics with less pressure on him and we’ll be better for a long time. But outside of him I say don’t trade beasley.

  24. What about this trade http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=8x9rqsg and a first pick headed to Portland?
    This makes sense…

  25. This team has been great lately and I am so thrilled to be watching a relevant T’Wolves team in the month of March. 8th spot currently and only a few games out of even the #3 spot in the Western conference… wow, no one saw that coming.

    I like what J-Lo said about Beasley and I also agree with what Eric is saying. Beasley is one of those elite scorers. Yes, he looks dis-interested and isn’t good on defense. But, he also can score 30 any given night. He is a guy you can just throw the ball to, isolate and say go get us points. Dudes like that are not that prevalent (even in the NBA). The major point is he is not 33 years old… he is 23 years old. I wouldn’t be angry if they tried to stick with him up coming and see if he figures it out and matures.

    With Wes… I don’t know about everyone else but I see that one game as an aberration. I would be extremely surprised to see the guy all of a sudden hit his stride and average 13 pts per game for the next 2 weeks. I hope I am wrong. Show me I am wrong Wes Johnson.

  26. I think this trade with charlotte is great
    http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=8ychxue

  27. Hey Zach, can you or anyone else reading this, comment on anything you know about Beasley for Anthony Morrow? To me that makes the most sense for the Wolves. I was sold on Ridnour for Crawford, but it doesn’t seem as appealing to me considering how they’re both playing respectively. I also had no idea Crawford is 31. I say keep him and then try and ship Beasley for Morrow where he is expendable but can stroke the long ball. I’m not sold on Wes Johnson and considering competition might be a good thing for him as well, I think it makes the most sense.

  28. Its what Ive been saying all along. As much as trades sound exciting and intriguing, the Wolves would be better off finishing the season with the players on the current roster. Everyone is now healthy and on board. (Dont know much about JJ) Like j-lo said, he is a restricted free agent and will probably come at a bargain. So what if he is a loose cannon on and off the court. Is he a jerk? No. From what I have seen he is a decent guy and easy to get along with. Every team has one or two of these kinds of players on there roster. Ours is Beas and Randolph. But it sure is nice when there is 7 mins to go in the game and were down by 15 and then you see these raw yet extremely talented players take the court and bring us back into the game. Beasley has been responsible for a few wins in that nature this year. How many times this year did you say, “wow, if it wasnt for Beasley we wouldnt of lost the game” Not many if at all. Usually when they lose it is because of a team effort. Either way I am against any trade unless of course its too good to pass up.

  29. I don’t understand why we would keep Beasley in any case. People don’t seem to understand that B-Easy is a net-negative in almost every game he plays (even when he scores 30). His defense is unforgivably atrocious. I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve seen him start staring off into the crowd while his man cuts backside and scores. Then, he’ll invariably commit a stupid foul on a three point play trying to make up for his lack of attention on the back-cut. Not only does his man put two points on the board, but he racks up another foul and puts the opposing team on the line sooner in the quarter.

    Absent minded turnovers are also a constant problem of his. Lastly, his shot selection is “if I have the ball in my hands, I’m shooting it.” This has a terrible affect on team offense. Every 2 points he scores are offset in lack of offensive movement and chemistry when everyone knows that he’ll eventually touch the ball and never relinquish it until he’s chucked up a bad shot (even if it goes in). He’s the perfect example of how someone can be a “scorer” and at the same time have a terrible affect on a team’s chances to win the game. It’s a testament to Adelman that he’s apparently got Beasly on an increasingly short leash. Beasley = more losses because of how his play affects the rest of the team even when he’s scoring. I haven’t seen anything like it since Antoine Walker.

    My suggestion, trade Beasley for me. I can be a really good equipment manager for substantially less money, and my beloved T-Wolves would win more games. If there’s ever any interest by any team to give the T-Wolves anyone in exchange for Beasley, the Wolves would be insane not to take it. Moreover, if any combination of draft picks + Beasley for Ray Allen could happen (perhaps including a contract extension for Allen as part of the deal), I would pee my pants with excitement. Despite his age, Allen is the antithesis of Beasley. He takes mostly “good” shots within the flow of the offense, is a defensive stopper, and would provide some much needed veteran influence on the team. Allen’s intangibles alone are worth more than everything Beasley has to offer.

  30. “wow, if it wasn’t for Beasely we wouldn’t of lost the game”

    I can think of a few. The opener against OKC. The game against Miami. Basically all of the early games where we lost by a handful, and spent the 4th quarter watching Beaz play a very convincing Kobe – aka throw up a bunch of bricks in triple coverage while his teammates stand there wide open.

    That said, we’re 21-19. We’re 18-12 since our 3-7 start. We’re 16-10 against the west. We’re 6-3 against the 6 division leaders, and 10-8 against the top 10 teams in the west. We have a bona fide superstar in Love. We have Pek/Williams/Rubio who have all-star potential (Beaz = superstar talent, not sure I believe in the P word for him). Don’t rock the boat unless we don’t get worse this year, but improve our position for next year (draft picks, salary space, etc). Stay the course, enjoy pushing OKC to the limit in round 1, and look forward to a perennial playoff team.

  31. Scooter – I guess we can agree to disagree.

  32. I don’t think we get anything of great value in return for Beasley. I’d rather have a couple aces in the hole on our team that can go off at any point, rather than have an injury and have us be short in the playoffs. The game against the clippers on monday – in addition to Love obviously having a great game, each quarter a different player stepped up to play a key role. Darko, Luke, Williams, and in the fourth, Beasley. We just need a couple of inconsistent players to step up each game – whether it be Williams, Beasley, Wes, Barea, or even Rubio – and we have a chance to beat anyone.

    Right now I see the team as starting to hit their stride together – I don’t think we’re getting anyone for Luke or Beasley that is really going to push us further into the playoffs. I remember earlier in the year everyone was calling us the “new OKC” – ie build from within in a small market and successfully turn into a contender.

  33. Cynical Jason March 8, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    I can’t wait for the trade deadline to pass. All of this trade speculation is making me crazy.

  34. Is anyone else about fed up with grandiose trade ideas made possible by ESPN’s “trade machine?” Granted, I spent a few hours at it the other day, weaving together 3- and 4-team deals, trying to find the perfect balance between fantasy and reality – taking both teams’ needs into equal account.

    And then I clicked on “share your trade!” link, leading me into a waste heap of terrible trade ideas (I’m used to encountering such a phenomenon when I venture into open internet space – I actually get to see that mysterious 50% of people that can’t locate Canada on a map). As soon as I linked what I thought of as a beautifully chiseled and sculpted trade with actual potential, it would get swallowed up by people trading their favorite teams’ entire starting 5 for Dwight Howard and LeBron James.

    I’ll curtail myself before I go on a tirade against the unabashed ignorance of the millions of young Americans for whom broadband internet is still a novelty. But I will say this: no team that is suddenly fighting for a playoff spot is going to jump at the opportunity to revamp their entire roster. We’re not the Bobcats, or the Wizards. And even they would have the sense to hold on to AT LEAST 3 of their starters. Midseason trades tend to be limited to 1-2 players per team. Never underestimate the value of team chemistry.

    We all agree that Ridnour and Beasley are our trade chips. If we do manage to unload either, which I would support, no amount of crazy, beyond unrealistic, shock-value trade ideas are going to make a whit of difference to the team management. Since March 15th is approaching ever so quickly, let’s just relax, and see what happens.

    And if you weren’t partisan to what I was just disparaging, then… Go Wolves!

  35. Andrew – Thats the best post Ive seen to date. I would rather stick it out a season with the roster we currently have and make your decisions when the season is done. Maybe its just me, but I think the Wolves can hang with any team in the West with the roster we have. OKC will be very tough to beat though.

  36. Z Harper for Wolves GM?

  37. Beasley is expendable because Derrick Williams can do the same things with less baggage, and more potential. A hot Beasley and a hot Williams essentially have the same skillset, and a cold Williams doesn’t fall in love with ill-advised isos or pull-up 20-footers. I appreciate Beasy when he lights it up, and he’s actually been playing with more discipline under Adelman, but I wouldn’t hesitate to move him for a first-round pick.

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