When deciding on whether the Wolves should pass on another big man and try to replenish the much depleted wing position, Wesley Johnson is easily the best the draft has to offer but at the same time is one of the bigger risks.
It’s not so much that Wesley Johnson is going to be a bad player. He’s quite talented and has the potential to be a nice weapon.
Wes brings a ton of athleticism to the table. He had the best no step vertical leap at the draft combine with a 32-inch jump. At Syracuse, he was a bevy of alley-oop opportunities. Just watch here:
But with all of the athleticism comes great responsibility. No wait. That was Spiderman. With Wesley, the athleticism is nice and it’s going to mean he can make a lot of plays in the NBA. On the break, he’ll be a threat for a dunk in nearly every situation. You can run probably one or two backdoor cuts for him each game to get a nice dunk. He moves fairly well without the ball and by being active in the triangle he could definitely find a couple of scoring opportunities in the lane by just cutting through the passing lanes.
One of the two questions I have with Johnson is do his negatives outweigh the athleticism or vice-versa?
I’d list his negatives in the following order of importance:
1. Dribbling ability
2. Is he a star?
3. He’s already 22 years old.
The star question and his age aren’t gigantic deals to me. Even though you’d hope with the fourth pick in a draft you’re getting a star player, as long as he helps the Wolves build to a place of respectability/playoff competitiveness. I’d settle for a more athletic version of Ryan Gomes here and hope players develop from there. Plus the fact that he’s already 22 years old (23 in July) makes me think he doesn’t have a ton of room for growth in his game. Yes, he’ll get better and more efficient at what he does well but he’s unlikely to add significant parts to his game that aren’t there already. And the one that worries me the most is his dribbling ability.
It’s not that he’s a bad dribbler. He can handle the rock a little. The problem is I don’t know that you can give him the ball and do the trendy isolation on the wing thing. He doesn’t seem like a guy that can create a lot for himself. He has the jab step to create room for his jumper, which will help a lot. But if defenders are going to play up on him to crowd his shot, can he make them pay for that? Is he just a direct drive type of offensive player without any backup plan? Can he cross a guy over? Is he just Hakim Warrick in a small forward mold? These are the questions that his dribbling ability raise.
Some of this feels like nitpicking and it probably is. But with a pick this high, you sort of have to nitpick while vetting the possibilities.
Ultimately, the second question I have about Wesley Johnson is the most pressing.
Is Wesley Johnson a good shooter?
This past year at Syracuse makes this look like sort of a no-brainer. He made 41.5% of his three-point attempts and the jumper looks fairly smooth when you watch it in action. He has a good release point and a very solid shooting motion. There isn’t a lot of wasted motion. The thing you have to figure out is whether or not it can translate to NBA range.
The reason this matter so much is because the Wolves aren’t exactly a government training facility for snipers. Minnesota was 23rd in three-point percentage (34.1%), 26th in three-pointers made (403) and 28th in the NBA in three-pointers attempted (1181). The Wolves didn’t have a single player shoot 40% from the arc. Wayne Ellington was the team leader with 39.5%.
By taking Wes you’re basically putting all of your long-range hopes on his ability to make it rain. If he can’t shoot it as accurately from a couple feet farther than what he’s used to, the Wolves will be giving up on a very important area of the floor unless Kevin Love can become Dirk Nowitzki (P.S. – he can’t).
I doubt Wes’ consistency shooting the three for a couple of reasons:
1) This past year was unlike any other in his other college career. His freshman year at Iowa State he shot just 29.4% on 109 attempts from three. His sophomore year at Iowa State he improved to 33.3% on 147 attempts from three. Once he transferred to ‘Cuse he became this sharp-shooting deadeye at 41.5% on 123 attempts. Was this because he grew as a player and a shooter? Was this because of tireless work in the lab, perfecting his craft? Or was this because he was playing a system that opened up threes for him he wouldn’t normally have at his disposal?
2) His ball handling could prevent him from getting good looks. His weak dribbling ability makes it unlikely that defenders would have to respect the threat of him driving past strong closeouts. If a defender can rely on just stopping his jumper from being comfortable then that takes away a lot of his offensive attack. He essentially becomes a one-dimensional player and that one-dimension would just be dunking. Ask Gerald Green and James White how that’s worked out for them.
3) Do we even know if he’s a better shooter than Corey Brewer? It’s not that Corey Brewer is a bad shooter. He’s improving his range and consistency and deserves a gold star for doing so. It’s just I wouldn’t exactly trust him with being the consistent long-range threat for defensive schemes to respect. At Florida, Brewer shot 35.6% from three in his three-year career. He had efficient field goal percentages of 57%, 53% and 53% during his time in college. Wesley Johnson’s numbers in his three-year college career are 34.8% three-point shooting with efficient field goal percentages of 50%, 48% and 56%. Corey Brewer had True Shooting percentages of 58%, 57% and 57%. Johnson boasts 53%, 52% and 60% in the same category.
Now, if Wesley Johnson’s year at Syracuse is simply a product of the system he was in and the averages of his three-year career are more indicative of his shooting ability then it’s going to be hard fielding a perimeter of Wesley, Corey and Jonny Flynn. There would be nothing to respect on the outside and defenses could key in on Al Jefferson and Kevin Love in the post. THAT’S a problem.
But maybe he can shoot. If he can shoot a lot of positives can come of this. Selecting Wesley for the starting small forward slot and adding a three-point threat to franchise gives Corey Brewer a big boost to what he can do on the court. Brewer was most effective as a shooting guard last season. According to 82games.com, Corey’s best position was at the 2 in which he posted a PER of 13.8 as opposed to his 11.9 at the small forward position. Defensively, his shooting guard counterpart posted a PER of 18.4 (remember he was guarding really good players) at shooting guard and a whopping 22.9 at small forward. Brewer is much better off playing in the backcourt with Flynn or Sessions (or Rubio?!?!) because his build is much more amicable to the position. He’s not strong enough to maximize his defensive strengths while guarding much bigger players at the 3.
Also, adding Wesley Johnson allows the team to keep up the break-neck pace they employed last year. Johnson can run the floor, fill the lanes and finish with fastbreak dunks of baptizing proportions. He’s also quick enough on defense to play solid transition defense and could be a prime candidate for weak side blocks. He showed great defensive instincts at Syracuse in their 2-3 zone and there’s no reason to believe his defensive strengths won’t translate to the NBA. He’ll need to get stronger but for the most part he’s very quick with his defensive decision-making. His long wingspan (7’1”) means he can make up for any offensive player blowing by him. He should be able to recover quickly and still challenge the shot.
He’s very Batum-ish in many ways.
Overall, Wesley Johnson at the fourth pick is something we should all be able to get behind. There are plenty of questions with just how good he can be and whether or not the shooting outburst seen at Syracuse is smoke and mirrors or dynamite with a quick fuse.
The good seemingly outweighs the bad and with this franchise that’s often the best you can hope for.