A roster of Wolves: Wesley Johnson

Benjamin Polk —  June 5, 2012 — 12 Comments

Let’s talk about the things that are and are not Wesley Johnson’s fault. The coming civil war in Syria? Not his fault. Being drafted ahead of DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe and Paul George? Not his fault. Being born with a sweet, mild demeanor? Not his fault and not really a bad thing either if your goal is to be a well-liked nice person. But if your goal is to be a terrific NBA player, a gentle nature is, while not necessarily a hindrance, an attribute best kept in its proper perspective.

Because no matter what kind of person you are, the passivity and seeming indifference with which Johnson approached his job this season is something that you can control. I’m personally not too mortified by things like a player laughing on the bench during a blowout loss; we’re all unique after all, and process things in strikingly different ways. What’s a bit more concerning to me is that Johnson seemed to bring no particular passion or investment to the actual task of playing basketball.

Its not even his offensive reticence that really puzzles me. Although let’s be clear: Johnson had a terrible offensive season. I challenge you to find an NBA starter with a PER worse than Johnson’s 8.08.  (Ups, I found one: DeShawn Stevenson, though he started fewer than half as many games as Wes.) And I certainly also find it strange that a player would seem less confident playing with Ricky Rubio and under Rick Adelman than he did in his first year learning the Triangle and that, under those circumstances, he would become a less intuitive passer, a less efficient shooter and turn the ball over at a higher rate. And it’s no doubt strange that, though he had clearly worked on his skills over the long off-season, Johnson’s game would remain so remarkably static and one-dimensional, that his midrange game would remain so undeveloped, that he would make even fewer attempts to attack the basket and draw contact (dude only went to the line 34 times in 65 games).

Yup, that’s all really strange. But what’s really strange is that, given the depth of his offensive struggle, given his great athletic gifts and given his stated desire to be a great NBA defender, he would be so noncommittal on the defensive end. We’ve talked about this before. But it remains a mystery. Why doesn’t Johnson, pursue his man around screens, or deny passing lanes or rotate to the basket or close out on shooters with more vigor? I really have no idea.

This season, many people wondered aloud a player struggling so badly would be given starting nods so frequently. Considering the Wolves’ limited options on the wing, this wasn’t something that ever particularly bothered me; after all, Johnson finished games much less frequently than he started them. And in any event, it was certainly to the Wolves’ benefit to give Johnson–just one year removed from being the third fourth pick in the draft–every opportunity to improve.

But he didn’t improve. And so in addition to wondering how that possibly happened, we have to wonder how much better we can expect him to get. Was this merely a crises of confidence? a dark spell that the lithe, formerly pure shooting kid can be coached out of? Or is Wes Johnson simply one of those players temperamentally unsuited to the NBA? I’d love to know the answer.

Benjamin Polk

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12 responses to A roster of Wolves: Wesley Johnson

  1. Just for correction he was drafted 4th. I’m interested to see what the full offseason of 2 a days, 5 days a week with Bayno will do for his game. He was a terrible dribbler and I believe it was the reason he was seemingly frightened of driving to the hoop. We desperately need either Williams or Wes to step up and give production to the 3 spot.

  2. AMEN.

    Confession: I had to stop watching the Wolves for the first time ever due to the fact that our coach continued to give the worst players significant minutes, and I contend, that this is the ONLY reason we did not make the playoffs this year (i.e. Johnson @ PER 8.08 averaging 23 minutes per game, Tolliver @ PER 8.30 averaging 18 minutes per game, Webster @ PER 10.02 averaging 25 minutes per game). Sitting on the bench was Beasley @ 13.11, Williams @ PER 12.98 and denied playing the 3-spot where he wants to play, and the most questionable of all being Randolph @ PER 17.60. On the bench or being played out of position were clearly much better players.

  3. Has anyone with media access tried to ask him those questions? He shouldn’t be that hard to get a hold of and interview for someone in the media brother(sister)hood. It would be interesting to see how he responds.

  4. I wonder if he has outside problems or psychological issues. Wes Johnson’s issues seem more mental then physical although he probably does not train the right way either, but I think that is more related to the mental then the physical. T-Wolves should cut ties with Beas and Randolph and Wes should get traded for fodder likely. The T-Wolves just need a good wing defender who can hit ouside shots and has some athleticism and if everybody is healthy the future is really bright.

  5. Benjamin Polk June 6, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Ah you’re right. I noticed that myself and then forgot to correct it. Corrected now.

  6. Benjamin Polk June 6, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    John, your comment is a great example of the limitations of PER, or for that matter, any cumulative measure of production. Yes, Beasley, Randolph and Williams are better offensive players than the guys you mentioned, but Beas and AR are both terrible defenders whose effort and attention span fluctuate wildly from game to game and even from possession to possession. A PER of 13 is nothing to write home about when scoring is almost literally the only thing you bring to the table. And while Williams may be a better fit at 3 offensively, he really struggled to defend 3s, which made it impossible to play him there.

    As for Johnson, just based on his production he clearly didn’t deserve the minutes he got–but, as I said in the post, isn’t it worth investing a little playing time in the fourth pick in the draft, especially when there aren’t really any better options at the wing positions?

    Also: the reason they didn’t make the playoffs is because Rubio, Love, Pek, Barea, Ridnour and Beasley all got hurt at once. Notice, that’s all of their best players.

  7. Wes Johnson is one of the biggest busts in Wolves Fanchise history. And just think, we could’ve had Paul George….God

  8. Yes, but we would have been crazy to take Paul George that early. He was such a wildcard.

  9. I don’t know how much better anyone can reasonably hope Wes will get, he’s 25 in a month. Older than the Thunder Big Three, older than Andrew Bynum who seemingly has been in the league since the mid-90s. Not that 25 is super old or anything but he has had four years in college, gotten all the PT he can handle for two seasons in the NBA . . . if he hasn’t bothered to develop an above-average handle or a more well rounded offensive game why would we assume he would start now? A swingman should be in his dead prime at his age, and I think you have to assume Wes Johnson is basically a finished product, in both senses of the term.

    Wes has been a disappointment, not because he failed but because his failings come from his supposed strengths, so what is one supposed to have hopes about? The assumption from the start was that his ceiling was not super high but given his supposed high character, maturity and polish he was one of the safest picks in a weak and unpredictable draft class, and that at worst he would become a serviceable rotation player and not an outright bust. He was chosen not to fail rather than to succeed and has not even met that modest bar, mainly because the work ethic, discipline and maturity that were supposed to be his advantages over guys like Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins have been entirely run of the mill at best. The failures of Greg Oden are mostly tragic. The failures of Wes Johnson are mostly inexcusable.

  10. Benjamin Polk June 8, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Have to agree with you there Mac, sad to say.

  11. Someone needs to get it in his head that he needs to use his athletic talents first and spot up shooting second. I would rather him study/try to train with Rudy Gay to learn how to harness that athleticism into some offensive production that doesn’t rely on spot up shooting. Gay has never been a great outside shooter, but is the best offensive weapon on that Grizzlies team. 25 with 2 years of NBA experience is young and he still has two years to hit his prime. If he can focus on defensive intensity and getting to the bucket this offseason, his shooting will eventually come around with confidence and he can become worthy of those minutes. He and Rubio should be a lethal combination in the open court.

  12. I can’t believe Wesley Johnson was picked ahead of those guys. I mean, he’s been complete garbage. He can’t shoot and is at the shooting guard spot. I mean who does the Wolves scouting? Oh yeah, I forgot . . . KAAAAAAAHN!!!!

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