Archives For Wes Johnson

The Wolves’ 3-point shooting last season was pretty atrocious.

Despite being 23rd in the NBA in 3-point percentage, the Wolves just kept chucking up shots from long range. They finished sixth in the NBA in attempts from downtown, even when you adjust for pace. Perhaps one of the reasons the Wolves kept shooting them was because of a confidence built up the previous season.

In the 2010-11 debaclypse season, the Wolves were deadeye shooters as a team. They shot 37.6% from 3-point range, much better than the 33.2% they managed in the lockout season. They had the fifth best percentage off the 10th most attempts. They liked to fire from deep and they were good at it. In fact, it was really the only thing they were good at.  Continue Reading…

OKAY!

A lot has happened over the couple days and now we’re getting a better idea of the way this roster could look heading into next season. After missing out on Nicolas Batum (when evil Paul Allen wouldn’t let him go despite Neil Olshey wanting to let him go or at least work out a sign-and-trade), the Wolves were left with a plan B. Only nobody really seemed to know what the plan B was. The team missed out on Courtney Lee because… well… let’s just say negotiating issues, and it left the team without many options.

So here are the four transactions that have gone/will go down:

1. Greg Stiemsma signs with the team.
2. Wayne Ellington is dealt to the Grizzlies for Dante Cunningham.
3. Wes Johnson and a 1st round pick are part of a 3-team deal that brings back Brad Miller’s contract (CJZero corrected me that he’s going to Phoenix), Jerome Dyson, and a couple of picks.
4. The Wolves sign Andrei Kirilenko for two years and roughly $20 million.

Let’s look at these in order of importance:  Continue Reading…

Final two games of the Wolves’ Summer League ended in wins, giving the Wolves a 4-1 record for the summer and a berth into the Las Vegas playoffs. Wait, they don’t have Summer League playoffs? The wins aren’t so important as the quality of play from the guys on the roster are. The two players everyone seems to care the most about are Derrick Williams and Wes Johnson so let’s start with them.

Derrick Williams

  • Williams’ play in the last two games wasn’t as promising as his play in games two and three, but there was still some good stuff to extract from Game 4 against the D-League Select Team. Derrick kept getting to the free throw line all week. In fact, he shot 56 free throws in five games during this stretch of games. Those are point-shaving by a referee totals. Williams was aggressive, for the most part, all week and wasn’t floating and settling like we saw for much of his rookie campaign. He may not have put up dominating statistics but he found a way to set the tone for his team quite often by getting to the charity stripe so much.
  • Game 5 was the big disappointment of the week for Derrick. He shot just 1/10 and didn’t really try to be the aggressor. That could have just been a case of Summer League senioritis. Maybe that just put him in the mindset of “I just want to get out of here” or maybe he just had a bad game and reverted to poor habits. Some people will freak out about it, but you shouldn’t. I think you can tell he just wanted the game to be over, based on the rebounding totals. He didn’t attack the glass at all in the final game. He had just one offensive rebound and zero defensive rebounds in 21 minutes.
  • Early in the week, he talked about wanting to showcase some passing ability and try to get his teammates involved. I think he kind of accomplished that in relative terms. During the season, he had just 0.6 assists per game, which is what happens when you’re just floating and taking bad jumpers. When we saw him in attack mode for the Summer League, he definitely tried to get more shots for his teammates. He averaged 1.8 assists per game in the five games, but the natural instincts for playmaking didn’t seem to be there. I think we saw much more playmaking ability for others by Wes Johnson than by Derrick.
  • I was disappointed in his defense for the week. I didn’t think he showed a real tenacity on defense and if that carries over to the regular season, it could affect him getting consistent minutes. It’s not even necessarily that Derrick has to be good. He just has to show effort and I’m not sure he did that this week.
  • I think it’s safe to say that when Derrick shows aggression in all aspects of his game, he’s a player you can see growing in Adelman’s system. When he’s a ball-stopper and a guy that seems unsure of what to do, he looks like a guy you want to ship out for high value. Personally, I liked the attempted change in mentality during the week.

Wes Johnson

  • This is the part of the summer in which I try to talk myself out of talking myself into believing Wes Johnson has a good season, relatively speaking.
  • I talked to Wes after his 28-point explosion against the D-League Select Team, and he talked about the differences between last year and how he was playing now. Obviously, you can just point to the talent of player opposing him and say that’s the reason. However, it seemed more like he played a different game, rather than just took advantage of worse players. Here’s what he had to say:
    - On his improved play from the end of his second game in Vegas and the 28-point game, “I’ve just been relaxed. I think that’s the main goal for me coming into this is to relax more. I think the previous season I was a little tense and they were throwing a lot of stuff at me. I got away from being myself. So me coming out to Summer League is establishing myself back to the player I was, and I’ve been doing that so far.”
    - On confidence going into next season with a year of Adelman’s system under his belt, “I would think this will be the first solid year I have. When I came into my rookie year, I got hurt and didn’t get to play in Summer League. The lockout shortened season with no training camp. This year is like my rookie year all over again.”
    -  On what he meant by the coaching staff throwing a lot at him last year, “It was the system. It was a lot of defensive stuff they wanted me to do. They wanted me to be a defensive stopper on the team. So I was really focused in and geared toward that. And you know, it’s the offensive side of the game too. I got away from that. So me coming in here is to help me get my stroke back.”
    - On the passing ability he showed during the Summer League, “I feel comfortable with it a lot. It’s me out there playing a game, just playing basketball. I think if I get to go out there, relax and play, then everything will take care of itself.”
  • Now, you can take these comments with a grain of salt all you want, but part of me believes the sincerity with which he said them. He wasn’t ducking his poor play but he wasn’t feeling like he couldn’t improve. Granted, I don’t think he “justifies” being selected over guys like DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Paul George, and any other players who have had early success. But I also think it’s unlikely he plays as poorly next season as he did last season. If he’s showing a much more comfortable demeanor on the court and it allows him to relax and make plays, he could be a pretty decent backup wing player.
  • The key thing I saw from Wes, outside of his passing ability which looked like a nice addition to his game, was the comfort with which he took his shots. Last year, there were hitches in his shot and hesitations in his decisions. You could tell he had very little confidence. This year? Who knows? Maybe he’ll go from a bad shooter to a decent shooter. Maybe he’ll think about putting the ball on the ground more like he promised on Media Day in 2011.
  • Again, I can’t stress enough that I’m not advocating for Wes Johnson having a breakout year. I just don’t think he’ll be as bad as last year. IF he actually ends up being more comfortable with his basketball surroundings, I think we won’t mind him being in the rotation. Or perhaps, he could have another terrible season. Regardless, it seems like he’s in the right mindset right now.
  • And hey, he shot 16 free throws in four games. That’s nearly half of his 34 attempts in 65 games last year. Progress?

Other key players from Summer League

  • Robbie Hummel – I love his shooting stroke and think he could be a fantastic player in the corner. Kind of like a small forward version of Steve Novak or maybe a less athletic James Jones. But his defense looked really bad for most of the week. He was active and kept some rebounding chances alive for the Wolves, but he looks like he’s playing on ice when he’s matched up with a quicker player.
  • Mike Harris – Harris had a really good week overall and showed he belongs on somebody’s depth chart. He has great touch around the basket, a solid jumper and he’s physical. His big problem is he’s already 29 and he’s also a 6’6″ power forward. At worst, he’s a guy you want challenging your rotation guys in practice.
  • Kammron Taylor – Kam showed a really smooth shooting stroke and did a decent job of running the “offense.” I think he needs more time in the D-League, but it would shock me if he became the third point guard on a team in a couple years.
  • Coby Karl – This guy is a professional basketball player. I know he’s bounced around and hasn’t been in the NBA since 2010, but he can set guys up, knock down shots, and shows grittiness in the backcourt. Wouldn’t mind him getting a camp invite from the Wolves.
  • Luke Sikma – I was impressed with Luke the last two games of the Summer League. Seemed like he realized he is bigger than a lot of guys and was willing to throw his body around inside to make things happen. He grabbed key rebounds on both ends and showed some ferocity down around the basket. A year or two in the D-League could help him figure out how to become an NBA power forward/center.
  • Lior Eliyahu – Everything Noam Schiller has ever told me about Lior showed out in Summer League. He’s a very good athlete that has almost no basketball skills. He’s not an NBA guy.
  • Paulo Prestes – I don’t really see how this guy can be a rotation player in the NBA. He’s very big and does a good job of keeping rebounding chances alive. But he’s incredibly slow defensively and brings the ball down too much on offense. He seems like a liability. He could stand to get into better shape, and if that happens, then maybe he’ll be quick enough for this league.
  • Corey Fisher – I had an irrational fascination with his game when he was at Villanova. Now that I’ve seen him in person, he looks like a guy that stopped taking his game seriously. He’s out of shape and incredibly slow for a guard. You can tell he still has an incredible amount of skill. His jumper is really solid and he created space pretty well to get it off. But he has to get quicker to make the league.
  • Zabian Dowdell – He didn’t shoot the ball well at all, but I loved his tenacity on defense. He’s very opportunistic and finds a way to contribute by moving the ball. Seemed like he got a lot of hockey assists during the week. He’s another guy that’s definitely an NBA player who just needs to latch on with the right training camp roster.

That’s all I’ve got with the happening-ons with Las Vegas Summer League. Did anybody leave lasting impressions on you?

In between learning the intricacies of Blackjack Switch and rifling through a karaoke song book, I observed some Derrick Williams domination that was a welcome sight to see. Wolves beat the Cavaliers by… well… who cares? The actual game results don’t matter. In fact, I’m not sure you can even say the play of the players truly matters, good or bad. But I do have some observations from the game that I’d like to share:

  • Derrick Williams was trying to dominate the game physically. There was a stretch in the first quarter when every time Derrick caught the ball, it was going to end in a whistle. This was probably six or seven straight possessions. He either got fouled or committed a charge. It was impressive how he forced the issue, even if he was a little reckless at times. It’s not a sustainable style of play for him because schemes and better defenders in the regular season will be able to strip the ball or draw more charges from a barreling Williams. However, it’s all about changing his mentality from being a floater to being an aggressive player.
  • The fact that Williams shot 16 free throws in one game was really impressive, as well. Omri Casspi sitting behind the Cavs bench was unhappy with the officiating. Cavs players and coaches joined him in their attitude toward the refs, but I really don’t think there were many bad calls going Derrick’s way. There was a moment in the second half in which he got into the lane and the ball was stripped away. It was hard to tell if he was fouled or not, but he definitely wanted a call. I looked over to the Cavs bench and the players were laughing about it.
  • Derrick’s shot selection when he wasn’t getting to the basket for fouls was pretty solid for the most part. He was 0/4 on 3-pointers, leaving him 1/12 this summer from behind the arc. He was 6/10 on 2-point shots. I’d really like to see him abandon the 3-point shot unless it’s a wide-open look or the shot clock is about to expire. He’s just so much better going to the basket. He’s not shying from contact the last two games but he’s rarely trying to dunk on anybody either.
  • With that said, he did get Luke Harangody on one play. It wasn’t a massive dunk but it taught Gody to not jump with him.
  • One more thing, Williams did let on a bit post-game that he’s kind of annoyed with the “is he a 3, is he a 4?” type of questions. Just wants to be a basketball player.
  • Wes Johnson didn’t play because of an ankle sprain, but it wasn’t ruled out him playing the rest of the week. I am really curious to see him play at least one more time. He was a game-time decision and the staff felt it was too sore for him to go. I just want to see if he can keep up the play he showed in the second half. He probably can’t but watching him in this environment of getting back to basics fascinates me.
  • Coby Karl was FIRE from 3-point range in the win over the Cavs. He hit six 3-pointers, accounting for all 18 of his points. If we didn’t have a glutton of guards (especially combo-ish guards) on the roster, I’d love for Karl to get a camp invite and be given an opportunity to make the roster. He’s a quality guard that should be on someone’s bench.
  • I continue to be completely underwhelmed by Paulo Prestes. I don’t really see anything he does that can translate to the NBA level. He finds a way to keep possessions alive by tipping offensive rebounds up, but against bigger guys in the regular season, can he even get into position to do that?
  • I thought Cameron Taylor was a really solid scorer. His shot looks balanced and he didn’t really force anything. He took everything within the flor of the game. Well, that’s not true. The flow of the game involved a whistle every 38 seconds.
  • Zabian Dowdell didn’t make a single shot but he might have played as well or better than Taylor and Karl. His defense was really solid. He defended Donald Sloan well and was pretty disruptive all over the place. He’s another guy I wish we had room for on the roster. Or at least to battle for a roster spot.
  • Finally, here’s an interview from Charlie Yao of Roundball Mining Company. He’s talking to Coby Karl:

 

 

I never got to watch the first game of the Wolves’ Summer League campaign when they beat the Clippers, but I was in the building for the loss to the Bobcats Monday night. After talking to a few media members and people around the league, I thought I’d share some thoughts about what’s been going on:

  • First, let me do some plugging in a shameless manner. I was asked to write about Derrick Williams for the Daily Dime on ESPN.com Tuesday night. Here is the link for that. To extrapolate on those thoughts a bit, I think it’s somewhat concerning that Derrick isn’t dominating this competition, and yet at the same time I don’t really think it’s that big of a deal. With lesser competition and talent on the floor, it seems like Derrick should be able to do whatever he wants, but it’s still not that simple. Something I noticed during the possessions in which Williams was attacking off the dribble from the perimeter, Charlotte was in position to get in his way if he beat Biyombo or Mullens off the dribble.
  • This doesn’t excuse Williams from not “dominating.” He clearly has things he still has to work on with how he attacks from the outside-in. His dribble is quick right now but his first step with that dribble is still slow. He also was having problems protecting the ball, but considering Charlotte’s plan was to swarm the ball at all times, it seems like he did a pretty decent job attack and trying to find the contact that he’s previously avoided. There are signs of concern but you can tell he’s working on those things when he’s on the court.
  • Where has this Wes Johnson been? I don’t think I’m going to allow myself to get too excited with his performance against the Bobcats Tuesday, but it’s a revelation — even against SL talent — to see him moving toward the basket to get shots. He wasn’t just spotting up on the wings and waiting to hesitate on jumpers. He dribbled into shots, he posted up, and he attacked the basket a bit. Toward the end of the game, he went and got some really good and key buckets. I don’t necessarily expect him to make this a regular thing. And I’m not holding out hope that he’ll finally get it. It’s just nice to see him remember how to be effective on offense for once.
  • Robbie Hummel can mix it up on the offensive boards a bit and his jumper is confident. After last season’s shooting debacle that was our perimeter, it’s weird seeing a guy raise up for a jumper, look completely calm and balanced, and then have a wave of confidence rush over you as he releases the shot. When Hummel takes a shot, it seems like a good shot. He doesn’t force anything and he doesn’t leave you wondering what he’s doing with the ball. If anything, he should probably be a bit more aggressive. I like his presence, even if he’s deep in the depth chart, because you can always use a confident shooter.
  • Paulo Prestes does not look like a big man that belongs in the NBA right now. He can mix it up inside a bit and get offensive rebounds. He can keep possessions alive decently. But when he gets the ball or has to rotate, it’s like watching an unathletic version of Ryan Hollins.
  • I have no idea how he fits into the roster, but I wouldn’t be mad if Zabian Dowdell stuck around the team. He’s a solid backup PG off the bench and you can do a lot worse than having him fighting for minutes in the rotation. If Luke or JJ end up getting moved as part of a bigger acquisition, I think Zabian has a real chance at a camp invite and staying around this organization.

The plight of Wayne Ellington was befuddling to many Wolves fans throughout the season.

We were a team full of shooters who could no longer shoot. After blistering the NBA with 3-point baskets when down double digits in 2010-11, the Wolves either regressed to the mean, had a lockout-induced outlier, or thought the new CBA brought about horseshoe rules in which close was good enough. Whatever the reasons were, Wayne Ellington seemed like a decent answer for a team that wasn’t making long-range shots.

He started out the first month of the season seeing solid minutes on the floor. Through the first 19 games of the season, he averaged 21.2 minutes per game and was providing an adequate threat for spreading the floor. Granted, these were all small sample sizes after a chaotic start to the season, but after going 1/6 from 3-point range in the first game of the season, Wayne hit 39.4% (13/33) of his 3s in the month of January while the team managed to make just 34.6%.

The team was still playing good defense during his extended minutes on the court as well (102.3 defensive rating in January; 99.5 as a team overall). Wayne’s defensive effort was often commendable even though he was a bit shorter than the wing scorers he was asked to defend. His footwork was solid and his effort to keep up was consistent. Unfortunately, he simply wasn’t tall enough to truly bother a lot of shots.

As Ben Polk mentioned in his Wes Johnson post, “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.” The weird thing about the Wes Johnson experience is his minutes stayed consistent over the course of the entire season. He never dropped below 20 minutes per game in any month of the season. He couldn’t make shots and he didn’t seem engaged on defense. And yet he was consistently on the floor, perhaps in the hopes that Ricky Rubio could figure out how to make Wes work.

When February hit, Wayne Ellington’s minutes vanished. In back-to-back games from January 23rd and 25th, he logged 71 minutes. Over the next 13 games, he played just 96 minutes total. Why did Wayne fall out of favor with Rick Adelman’s rotation? Perhaps there were practice issues, although the team didn’t really have a lot of time to practice. Perhaps there were personality clashes, except nothing ever seemed to get out about Wayne or Rick being unhappy with one another. Perhaps it was the hope that greater “talents” in Martell Webster and Wes Johnson would figure out how to play in a budding rotation that was starting to take off even when their wings remained grounded.

Whatever the reason was, the Wolves’ best shooter was left for rotting on the pine during a key month of the season. It wasn’t a good move and it wasn’t a bad move. I don’t even know that it was a move at all. It was just confusing to watch one of the team’s best shooters struggle to find time on the floor when his shot had been threatening and his effort to play defense has shone through.

Wayne would regain minutes after Ricky Rubio’s injury but his shooting touch was inconsistent over the last two months of the season. It’s weird to think that Wayne Ellington was actually the answer at shooting guard during the season because he probably wasn’t. He’s a backup kind of guy and even then I’m not sure you have to have him in your rotation.

It’s also weird to think a guy that was providing a need and needed effort at a consistently struggling position for the Wolves would just stop playing without much explanation or proven alternative available.

Long-term, this isn’t a big deal but in the short term, it was pretty puzzling.

As I was, as you were, J.J. Barea was mightily displeased by his teammates’ second-half effort last night. Here is what he told reporters after the game (via Tom Powers at the Pioneer Press):

We’ve got problems here. We just got a lot of guys that don’t care. When a basketball team got a bunch of players that don’t care, it’s tough to win games. It’s going to happen until we get players in that care: care about winning, care about the team, care about the fans…

I’ve been noticing it. But today you can really notice it. It was a brutal second half. Nobody fighting, nobody getting mad at nobody. After a game like that you got to have problems. You got to argue with your teammates. But nobody cares so we’ve got to change that.

I have three thoughts about this. First: I’m guessing that this is probably the kind of talk that prompted Kevin Love to get all up in J.J.’s grill during their loss to the Kings.

Second: he’s totally right and you can’t really blame him for being frustrated. And it takes some real ballz to essentially call out loud for the dismissal of dudes who are literally sitting feet away from you at that very moment. You have to kind of admire that.

Third: I wonder who he’s talking about. Michael Beasley’s vacant performances seem to me less about a lack of caring and more about his flaky personality. It just seems really hard for the guy to find focus and absorption in what he’s doing. Anthony Randolph seems to possess some of Darko’s melancholia: when things aren’t going well his shoulders slump, he wanders around like a lost child, he looks sad in the face. And Wes Johnson? Wes just seems happy to be there. Suffice it to say, none of the above qualities make for terribly competitive basketball players.

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.  Continue Reading…

Timberwolves’ fans should be glad that Saturday’s game against the Blazers was not decided on the basis of a head-to-head matchup between Wes Johnson or Michael Beasley and Gerald Wallace. Wallace’s game is a study in the contrast between the immense, relentless energy he expends and the languid, loose-limbed way he physically expresses that energy. Watching him attack the basket, scramble for rebounds, streak into passing lanes–well its a really a thing of beauty.

All of which made it a little bit hard for me to watch Wes and Beaz saunter through their time on the floor. That Beasley would be slow to loose balls or would fail to match the energy of one of the league’s most inspiring wing defenders is not a terrible shock and, at this point, doesn’t seem to be worth lamenting (although there are moments…). But Wes Johnson really mystifies me at the moment. I know that he is still a novice when it comes to NBA team defense and that he currently lacks the instinct for negotiating screens and defending the myriad articulations of the pick-and-roll. Ok, fine.

Continue Reading…

The Wolves got Kevin Love a couple of easy baskets against the Houston Rockets during their fourth and final meeting of the season by finding ways to get him moving across the lane and into the strong side of the floor. I thought I’d examine a couple of plays by breaking down how they developed and the options it leaves Minnesota on the floor. I figured I’d get my Sebastian Pruiti on for a little bit.  Continue Reading…