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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.

You’re My Density

Benjamin Polk —  May 28, 2010 — 1 Comment

Photo by Quinn.anya

Check out Bethlehem Shoals at Fanhouse, with another critique of the NBA draft (the 2010 version, at least). This time, its in comparison with this year’s mythic free agent class. If you read the whole thing, you can catch Shoals calling Demarcus Cousins a “stenchful fraud.” Yowza:

“Instead, it’s been overshadowed by something at once more realistic and more fantastic. If the draft plays with the fantasy of franchise renewal, then Free Agency 2010 throws aside the dolls and chew toys and says LET’S DO THIS. This is not a drill; LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh are not decoys. By comparison, the draft is an afterthought — at least as any kind of exercise in idealism.”

Shoals is right to point out that the imaginative potential of this free agent class–the ability to envision some team making that one transformational move–dwarfs that of the draft. But, setting aside the fact that very few teams actually have a shot at these luminaries, that note of realism marks a key difference. Lebron and Wade and Bosh (and Dirk and Amare and more) are surely epochal players, but we’ve also seen them at their limits. Neither Lebron nor Wade could singlehandedly solve the Celtics defensive pressure. Despite Dirk’s most manful efforts, he couldn’t force his team to play grittier D or more coherent O against San Antonio. And even Bosh couldn’t save Toronto from devolving into a depressing spectacle. This free agent class is filled with sure things, but team-building remains a complex, esoteric business. And the draft is still the site of our most unabashed optimism.

(Quick introduction: My name is Zach Harper and I’ll be contributing here frequently at AWAW. Some people may know me from my work at HardwoodParoxysm.com, CowbellKingdom.com, RaptorsRepublic.com and/or Talkhoops.net. As a life long Wolves fan, I feel very honored to be on this site and to be working with Ben and Myles.)

DeMarcus Cousins is looked at as a very volatile and yet talented young man who is set to unleash a fury of punishment and bewilderment on the NBA.

The problem is that nobody quite knows which direction those things will be directed.

I’m not so much concerned with the player that DeMarcus will become. He’s an absolute barbarian when it comes to his play on the court. He’s usually the biggest and strongest guy out there and knows how to use this to his advantage. This seems like a very simple concept but it’s one that not many players know how to do. Cousins is clearly comfortable with his size. He doesn’t feel overgrown or too fat for these jeans in any way. He’s a powerful guy that enjoys throwing that power around.

His weaknesses are more mental than anything else. He’s a headcase and a bad apple but not in the conventional sense. He doesn’t really get into off the court problems. During his one year at Kentucky, he was a model citizen when it came to life away from Rupp Arena. However, when he was on the court and more importantly walking towards the sidelines, you could routinely see him disagreeing and arguing with his head coach in a way not representative of a gentleman.

I don’t want to say it’s a sense of entitlement with Cousins because that doesn’t seem to be the issue. I think he’s a very strong-willed individual who can butt heads with other strong-willed individuals. Put him in a program with a more easy-going head coach and you’d probably never know that Cousins was considered somewhat of a problem child. Sure, he’d throw the occasional elbow to an opponent’s head and he’d probably get a technical foul for screaming at the referee. But overall, you wouldn’t see him screaming at his coach to go intercourse himself.

I want to you to take a few minutes and review the following two videos. If you have the time, watch both of them in their entirety. However, it’s not necessary to do so. Just watch a couple minutes of each to see the fascinating psyche on display.

DeMarcus Cousins is seemingly brilliant if you ask me. I think he’s probably the most self-aware prospect I’ve ever seen come into the NBA. He knows what he is. He knows what he has been and he knows what he will be. There is no façade with him. There is no image he’s trying to portray. Cousins dances with reporters until he grows agitated by such tomfoolery. And yet, he’s toeing the line of letting his frustration get the better of him or keeping a cool head. It’s a fascinating look into a young man figuring out his professional obligations in real time.

However, in the paraphrased words of Dave Chappelle he’s pretty much delaying the inevitable of seeing what happens when keeping it real goes bad.

DeMarcus isn’t going to pull punches or sugarcoat anything. He has an opinion of how things are and he doesn’t fill the need to filter much. He’s too intelligent to just come out and say what’s on his mind when he can sense it will be twisted or used against him at a later date. If anything, he’s constantly reminding himself of his own Miranda Rights. He’s going to try to not say anything that will be used against him in a court of public opinion later on.

I don’t know that any of this is a problem either. But I also can’t say it won’t be a problem. With DeMarcus Cousins you’ll get a demonstrative entity capable of ruling the NBA paint. It’s not so much a question of how good is he? It’s more of a question of how good will he allow himself to be?

Throwing him into a frontcourt with Al Jefferson, Kevin Love and Darko Milicic (assuming he re-signs) is a potential path of destruction and a Batman utility belt full of interior options.

If you need to go all offense, you can run Jefferson and Love together. Yes, it’s defensive equivalent of interior saloon doors but at the same time, no one can theoretically stop their post scoring as they continue to mature next to each other.

If you want more of a balance, you can throw out the combination of Cousins and Jefferson or Cousins and Love together. Both work in amazing ways. Cousins can account for any defensive liabilities Love or Jefferson might pose. He can guard the strongest post player on the floor or allow Jefferson and/or Love to guard them and provide stellar weak side help. On offense, you can put both Jefferson and Cousins in the post and let them take turns pulverizing the interior. Or you can play the high-low game with Love and Cousins and watch opposing big men weep in frustration.

And on those possessions in which you need to go all defense for big stops, you can run Cousins and Darko out there together and watch them bully opposing offenses.

DeMarcus Cousins is a once in a generation level talent on the inside with a perennial bust level attitude. Rarely do we ever see guys possess both of these traits. He’s a roll of the dice in many ways because you don’t know if he’s going to be an All-Star player for your team or the next team he plays for. He’s definitely not a guy you see sticking with one organization for the majority of his career. He’s likely to be a floater in this league in the mold of a Rasheed Wallace or Zach Randolph. He would have fit in perfectly with those early millennium Blazers team.

What David Kahn will have to decipher is whether they can risk being the team he unleashes his inevitable path of destruction upon.

Because one way (opposing team) or the other (his team), it’s going to happen.