It seems only right that Martell Webster (231, 4.06) and Wesley Johnson (245, 3.91) are paired so closely together on #NBARank. They are, after all, the two Wolves left standing from David Kahn’s Summer 2010 swingman shopping spree. One irony of this fact is that of the three fellas vying last season to be the Wolves’ regular two–all of whom were young, curiously incomplete (as players) and most likely playing out of position–only Corey Brewer, with his dilated, edge-of-panic defense, had that single upper-echelon skill that separated him from the pack. But Wes Johnson and Martell Webster can shoot and Corey Brewer cannot, not even a little. And for this reason, Corey gets to wear a terribly beautiful, diamond-encrusted, bullet-proof SUV on his ring finger while Wes and Martell will still be logging off-guard minutes for the Wolves next year. Yeah, that part is a little confusing.
Archives For Wesley Johnson
I kid, I kid. Because I care.
“This is a well-deserved honor for Wes and our entire organization is proud that he’ll be representing us in the Rookie-Sophomore game,” Wolves head coach Kurt Rambis said. “Wes works extremely hard every day to become a better player. This announcement is a testament to the strides he’s already taken this year and the bright future he has in the league.”
Here’s an interesting thing David Kahn said in his FSN live chat on Wednesday:
I think we have too many wing players and it may be something we have to address, if not before the deadline then certainly next summer. The concept was we would create a lot of competition for playing time in practices but I don’t think it works as well. It works more theoretically than practically.
Of course, the Wolves’ wing bounty was one of the primary criticisms leveled at Kahn and Rambis this offseason. And as recently as last month, Kahn and Tony Ronzone were still defending those moves on the aforementioned grounds: that competition would raise everybody’s level of play and allow the Wolves to identify the best players of the bunch.
So it’s pretty striking for Kahn to now admit that this little experiment hasn’t worked as the team had hoped. My guess is that it has to do with the recent struggles of Martell Webster and Wes Johnson.
Of the many by turns illuminating and inscrutable tidbits I dug up in the past few weeks while doing research for the Truehoop post, this was among the most glaring: the Wolves’ situation on the wing is a true riddle, a strange machine, filled with moving parts and missing pieces.
Let’s start with what we’ve recently learned. Michael Beasley is the team’s most gifted scorer, but hurts the team defensively (though we’ve seen improvement in the past week), especially when partnered with his young mates in the starting lineup, Darko Milicic and Kevin Love. Wesley Johnson and Corey Brewer both have severely limited offensive games, but come with a desperately needed energy and athleticism that complements Love’s and Darko’s special talents. And although it’s too soon to know for certain how Martell Webster affects the team–and he seems to be still very much inhibited by his stiff back, particularly on defense–it’s clear that Webster brings a reliable shooting touch and what passes on this team for veteran savvy (i.e. he’s, like, played in a playoff game before). How do we figure this out?
Surely this is a tired angle, but it’s true nonetheless.
If there was ever promise to be shown in a 17 point loss, last night our Wolves managed to do so against the Lakers. Moral victories may not appear in the standings, but they do provide the necessary motivation to push through a rough schedule and Kurt Rambis’ postgame comments spoke to as much.
“Well obviously that wasn’t the result that we wanted, but I thought our guys did a really good job for a vast majority of the ball game. We stuck to our game plan, we got the shots that we wanted, we just couldn’t make shots. And they’re a team that can take your defense-your good defense-and make a shot that can turn your defense into nothing.”
This is unquestionably true. Los Angeles not only features the virtuoso Kobe Bryant, but a cavalcade of talented postmen and dead eye shooters who all maintain the savvy and selflessness to compensate for the occasional off night from a teammate. That’s exactly what happened on this particular evening. Despite a debatable shot selection from Kobe and one of the poorer outings I’ve seen from Pau Gasol since donning the purple and gold, the Lakers still coasted through this matchup thanks to the heady play of their bench, particularly Matt Barnes.
It really shouldn’t be surprising that the fourth pick in the NBA draft is playing well. I mean, there’s probably a reason people thought he was really good, right? But when it comes to the draft, we Wolves lovers have gotten used to taking solace in what other people take for granted. After all, we can still faintly hear the voices of Shaddy, and Randy Foye and Ndudi Ebi (and so many others) echoing through the halls.
And even for us, I guess it isn’t too much of a shock that Wes Johnson is hitting that gorgeous jumper of his. (In the past three games, Wes has hit 15 of his 25 shots and seven of his 15 threes.) I mean, have you watched him shoot this thing? His body is lithe and quiet; no motion is wasted; all is in balance. The ball passes through the basket with that clean, forceful snap common to natural shooters.
What has been pleasantly surprising has been Johnson’s composure and patience in adapting to this new level of play. Many rookies, such as Wes’ pal Jonny Flynn last year, attempt to compensate for their inexperience by incautiously forcing themselves on the game. But for the most part, Johnson has been energetic but under control, playing within the offense, allowing the game to come to him.
It’s true that Johnson’s offensive game is still fairly static; his ball-handling lags far behind his other skills and prevents him from being much more than a spot up shooter. But his court vision and intuition have been impressive. He’s made up for his one-dimensional scoring with a knack for the deft interior pass. One moment in Atlanta nearly encapsulated Johnson’s season so far. After a long rebound, Sebastian Telfair spotted Johnson gracefully bounding down the right wing and hit him with a chest pass. Wes bobbled it, gathered it in, bobbled it again and then calmly hit Michael Beasley flashing through the lane for an easy two. If Wes could have somehow topped it off with one of those pure, towering threes, the picture would have been complete.
It’s also clear that Wes is just learning to negotiate the complex web of switches, rotations and hedges that make NBA defense such a puzzle. He occasionally gets lost attempting to work around screens; he occasionally gets caught with his head turned; he’s occasionally late to close out on shooters. But the energy and nerve (not to mention that long, elastic body) he brought to the tasks of guarding the likes of Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant reveal a player willing to extend adult-level effort and unbowed by his new context.
So again we’ve got: a rookie with the skills and athletic ability to make elite NBA plays and the intelligence and patience to know his own limitations and find his niche in the game. Good enough for me.
Well, we pushed and they pushed back.
The Wolves ended the first half on a 14-5 run against the Hawks only to relinquish the ground they gained in a 11-21 run to open the 3rd quarter. Then in a fervent scramble to prevent another blowout, our pups scored nine unanswered, cutting Atlanta’s lead to just 7 points with enough time to pull out a win, only to be buried for good after a Jamal Crawford four point play.Final score: Hawks 113-Wolves 103.
But hey, it’s progress.
It’s doubtful anyone besides our friends from the ATL came into Target Center anticipating a W, however the home faithful must have been pleased they didn’t bear witness to another shellacking. Kurt Rambis was content with his team’s effort and is looking to build on last night’s showing. “Our team is getting frustrated by losing, obviously. But I really liked the way we practiced on Thursday and we did a good job of carrying it over to the game. We had an awful lot of bright moments tonight both offensively and on defense.”
Indeed they did. On a night where both Kevin Love and Michael Beasley struggled, shooting a combined 12-36 from the field, one of the Wolves true strengths began to show itself: depth.
Corey Brewer has shown several concerning signs of regression early into this season; a lack of confidence in his shot, uncertainty in attacking the basket and uncharacteristic defensive miscues. But on Friday night he was possibly the team’s star performer with an impressive corralling of Iso Joe Johnson alongside 18 much needed points and five timely steals. He was aggressive, decisive, and most importantly, judicious in his shot selection. Brewer still provides his own special brand of unintentional comedy, specifically on his loose limbed forays into the paint, but it was refreshing nonetheless to see him find a comfort zone. Even if only for an evening.
Minnesota’s newfound swingmen coupled with Corey’s recent lapses resulted in a refusal to offer an extension on this year’s contract, so it will be interesting to see if he can find a way to redeem himself without pressing the issue. More performances like Friday’s would certainly be a step in the right direction.
Of course the other star of the evening for the home team was Corey’s new competition, Wesley Johnson, who coincidentally is strong in practically every area his colleague is not. Wes exhibits range, comfort and consistency in his jump shot, nimbleness in attacking the basket and awareness in distributing the ball all while providing the same quick feet and long armed defensive presence. Wes was 4-6 from three point range on the evening, matching Brewer’s 18 points and took a few efficient turns spelling his partner’s defense of Iso Joe.
If there’s any glaring weakness in Johnson’s game, it’s his ball handling. His footwork and athleticism make him quite the threat to YouTube practically anyone, but an apparent inability to put the ball on the floor is a real hindrance to what could be an awesome offensive arsenal. If defenders had to respect his first step, it would not only open his game, it could make him the dependable scorer Wolves are clearly lacking. (Dependent on how you feel about one Michael Beasley.)
Regardless, the two make an impressive tandem. Given the absence of both Jonny Flynn and Martell Webster, they will have time to establish themselves and even upon their compatriots return, could make significant contributions to the second team.
As Rambis noted postgame, “We still don’t know what our team is or who we are until we’re healthy. Even then there will be more experimenting.”
Wes Johnson and Kevin Love are new teammates. Things are not always going to click.
But they seem to be willing to work through the awkwardness and eventually do what they need to do to be better teammates.
(Via – Guyism)
You guys will get it eventually. Keep working.
It was nice of Luther Head to give Wes Johnson a kind greeting into the league.
After a turnover in the second quarter against the Kings, Sebastian Telfair did his Through The Fire thing by throwing a pass that probably looked better in his mind than in reality to a streaking Wesley Johnson on the break. Wes did the rest:
What kills me about the reaction to the dunk is Wes seems like the nicest guy in the world. The mean streak face he exhibits after the dunk is sort of hilarious. I love seeing a guy like that be impressed by his own athletic accomplishment.
I still contend that DeMarcus Cousins should have been the pick at #4 but I’m glad the Wolves got a guy like Wes Johnson in the draft. I don’t care if he becomes a perennial All-Star or not. He’s just the type of guy who is fun to have on your team and watch him develop, no matter what his ceiling ends up being.
It’s like Mark Madsen only with basketball skill and fun plays.
Welcome to the league, kid.
Death and decay are two inexorable facts of life. Everything gets old; everything wilts and fades; everything dies. We’ve been dealing with this for quite a while now. We U.S. Americans, though, are becoming practiced in the art of forgetting these facts. We’re smitten with newness and youth. This is maybe the great appeal of sports. When we watch, we get to forget about dying and our own aging bodies. We get to feast our eyes on the powerful, fluent movements of the young and in so doing, briefly make their bodies our own.
This is both magical and, like most of the best parts of our pop culture, also a huge problem. Because in sports (particularly the NBA and the NFL), even the slightest sign of aging (remember: inexorable fact of life) is viewed as weakness. And weakness is intolerable to us. And so, in a world in which personal worth is assumed to be perfectly quantifiable–in dollars, wins, tails in seats–as a player begins to age, begins to enter into that phase of life known to us non-physical geniuses as adulthood, said aging is accompanied by rapidly diminishing value, until that fella is finally judged to be of no value at all.
This is disconcerting for a guy like me, 33 years old, really just now coming into bloom as a human. I’m not crazy about watching men younger than me casually discarded for their advancing age, for the grave sin of minutely diminishing lateral quickness. Just seems really cruel. (I would imagine, by the way, that this sense of unease at watching our heroes fade, and the way it turns us back toward our own creeping mortality, is fairly common. And I’m convinced that this is a huge part of the NFL’s great success. With players faceless under those masks and that gear, its easy to maintain that sense that they are interchangeable. When a player gets old or damaged, he’s easily replaced by someone younger and fitter who looks essentially the same. We get to remain comfortably enthralled by the dream of perpetual youth.)
Oh, did I not mention that this was a Timberwolves season preview? In the NBA, youth signifies vitality and hope. And right now energetically embodied, hysterically physical youth is what the Timberwolves have to offer us. This youth is presented to us in many forms. There’s Michael Beasley’s adolescent exuberance (genuinely charming), unavoidably accompanied by his equally adolescent decision making and penchant for indulgent heroism (not at all charming).
There’s Wesley Johnson, whose plainspoken, almost naive earnestness stands in stark contrast with his alarming quickness and leaping ability. And Kevin Love, still only 22 (!), cocky and self-assured in the way of people who have never really had anything bad happen to them. And Jonny Flynn (see Beasley, Michael); and the bruising, occasionally lewd and rude Nikola Pekovic; Corey Brewer and his ridiculously skinny legs; the shy, boyish Darko Milicic; and so many more.
You get the picture; overflows of energy and talent coupled with barely burgeoning maturity. Sports are already an inverted world. But when you consider that, at age 23 with five years of NBA experience, Martell Webster is the even-tempered veteran presence, suddenly gravity really does seem to be pulling us up.
So where does all this, plus the team’s startling 6-2 pre-season leave us? There are some things I think we can be pretty sure about already. The team will (thank goodness) defend with much more verve and awareness than they did last year. With any luck, they will run the floor with some seriousness of purpose (as opposed to last year’s haphazard, often turnover-friendly chaos). Their half-court offense will probably look a little stilted for a while as these young guys begin to scratch the surface of the reads and reactions necessary to run Kurt Rambis’ offense.
And there’s still a lot we don’t know. We don’t know whether Jonny Flynn will improve enough (or whether Luke Ridnour will get enough minutes) to keep this ship afloat. We don’t know whether Darko and Koufos and Pekovic will be able to protect the basket (or even whether Pek will be able to stay on the floor). We don’t know whether Beasley will ever become a viable, every-night NBA scorer.
But what is most important to me right now is that even one quick glance tells you how strikingly different this team is than last year’s. These Wolves communicate a kinetic energy, a sense of immediacy and motion that has been missing since KG left the building. It’s been this lack, more even than the innumerable losses, that have made the Wolves so miserable to watch over the past three years. Activity and abandon and potential and desire: these are youth’s essences. This extreme youth will probably cause the Timberwolves to lose a lot of games this year. And this team will certainly not challenge us to rethink our assumptions about the aging athlete. But at their best, they could also give us the opportunity to indulge in one of life’s sweetest, guiltiest illusions: the one that tells us that we just might live forever.