It what will most likely be their most evenly contested game of the season, the Wolves matched up against themselves on Wednesday night in Mankato. In case you missed it and had money on the line, the Black team beat the White team 77-67. Whites all over Minnesota are reportedly inconsolable. (Check out some pretty dizzying highlights right here).
Rookie forward Wes Johnson, battling back from a nagging hamstring injury, might have been at the top of Rambis’ list. Johnson, the No. 4 pick in the draft, displayed a smooth shooting touch, knocking down several outside shots within the framework of Rambis’ triangle offense.
“It felt really good to be out there competing,” Johnson said. “I hadn’t played in a game since July (rookie summer league in Las Vegas). I’m trying to learn this offense at a fast pace, but I’m getting it.”
Koufos sure looked as if he was trying to impress somebody. Little more than a salary dump when the Utah Jazz included him in the Al Jefferson trade, he was the most lively center in a group that also includes Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic.
It would be really funny if Koufos ended up stealing minutes from Darko this year. Its like when we spent more money than I’d like to admit on a garlic press and still wound up chopping the garlic the old fashioned way. Darko being the garlic press in the analogy, obviously.
I’ve never been more excited to start a training camp. Training camp is always been something that you want to skip but I’m so excited…I go from being in a Toyota to a Bentley. Its a beautiful thing.
That’s wonderful, Al, I’m simply thrilled for you. I’d like to point out that a) the Jazz are hardly a Bentley and b) Toyota’s are fine automobiles indeed. Seriously though, I’m glad Big Al is in a better place.
The Timberwolves have reported a new “corporate partnership” with Sanford Health which will take the shape of, among other things, a huge billboard on the Target Center. Is it weird to anyone else that a giant regional HMO would want to spend a huge amount of money sponsoring the Wolves?
Much like Las Vegas itself, with its miles of ersatz culture, its endless, eerie replicas and synecdoches, Monday’s Wolves-Spurs game looked strangely familiar. The Wolves hit only 36.5% of their shots (and 33.3% of their threes). Their opponent, the Spurs, hit over 50% of theirs. The Wolves look ragged and confused on both sides of the ball. They lose by 21. I’m pretty sure we’ve been here before.
Happily, this was not some disheartening, mid-February grinder. This was the summer league, itself a strange, brightly lit but dishevelled version of the NBA itself, in which nobody really cares who wins and loses (although I don’t think that single-digits are too much to ask) and ragged confusion is an essential facet of the game.
Now, this game was slightly less wild and free than your average summer match-up (apparently the Spurs corporate culture filters all the way down); there were some token efforts by both teams to run an actual offense and move the ball. Still, it was easy to tell what was foremost in most players’ minds: getting up shots. A pageant of adventurous dribbling, long jumpers and forced passes ensued. Viva Las Vegas. Here are some observations:
Wesley Johnson did all of the things we were told he would do: he got way up in the air; he came off a screen to hit a towering, perfectly balanced catch-and-shoot three; he played active, spidery defense, blocking shots, deflecting passes and creating turnovers with well-timed traps. So far so good. But, as promised, he also looked a little shaky with the ball in his hands, at one point allowing it to sort of drift from his fingers and languidly float out of bounds in the open floor. Then his hamstring tightened up and he left the game. As Kevin Arnovitz points out at Truehoop, Wes made little effort to force the action–and this was a good thing since nearly everyone else on the court was doing more than enough forcing. Arnovitz puts it well:
Johnson didn’t dominate the game by any stretch of the imagination. But he also didn’t waste possessions, which is a bad habit most summer-league guards and wings have a hard time kicking…Johnson is the rare summer league player who will look better playing with and against the best players in the world rather than trying to dominate the rookies and fringe prospects that populate NBA Summer League rosters. When Johnson’s teammates start looking for him and setting him up with opportunities to finish plays, he’ll shine as an offensive player while making an impact on the defensive end.
Lazar Hayward looked a little bit small and a little bit slow. But, while other players were clearly playing a notch or two faster than their skills could manage, Hayward stayed pretty chill, showing some Paul Pierce/James Harden-esque craft and a deceptively quick release. And while its hard to tell whether his splay-footed shooting style is a harmless quirk or a sign of poor balance, it does seem like Hayward has developed some useful old-man tricks to overcompensate for his lack of more obvious gifts.
Jeremy Pargo seemed pretty overwhelmed. He over-dribbled; he missed open teammates; he took ill-advised shots. Jonny Flynn can tell you: this is what it looks like when a guy who is used to being the most skilled and athletic player on the floor finally finds himself matched up against his peers.
It has been wondered aloud just what prevents Patrick O’Bryant, despite his size, length, and touch, from sticking in the NBA. Apparently its because he has terrible footwork and seriously limited ball skills. He did fight for some boards and play relatively thoughtful defense, but when O’Bryant had the ball in his hands he looked lost in the wilderness.
Holy smokes, Wayne Ellington had a terrible game. He seemed to have made up his mind, as the team’s presiding veteran, to dominate with his scoring and playmaking. But instead he just ended missing open shots and forcing the ball where it wouldn’t go. I would imagine we’ll see a more measured, poised Ellington in the coming days.
Speaking of trying too hard, announcers Rick Kamla and Steve Smith were working manfully to affect a bro-ey camaraderie. Smith is a likeable, knowledgeable guy but his emulation of Mark Jackson’s wisely macho proclamations–”you know the rule: hand down, man down!”; “Mama, there goes that man!”–has got to go. And Kamla is kind of unbearable. That Stu Scott-ish combination of outdated playground slang and classic broadcaster over-annunciation almost always just ends up sounding like someone’s dorky little brother trying to hang with the cool kids. Can’t take it.
Ben and Myles seemed to perfectly sum up all of the areas, possibilities, good and bad of the draft night; However, the most important aspect of it could end up being the trade of Luke Babbitt and Ryan Gomes to the Portland Trailblazers for Martell Webster.
While the salary cap aspect seems to be a mystery to people it shouldn’t be a mystery to, the talent aspect is very clear. The Wolves are getting rid of a very incredible role player in Ryan Gomes. Gomes is one of those San Antonio Spurs-type of guys off the bench that is very understated but always seems to make the right play. He’s also an incredibly likable person who seems to get what being a professional athlete is all about. He’s one of the good guys that doesn’t force anything with his fame and physical prowess. He just lets everything come to him in life and with a young team it’s hard to imagine you’d want to get rid of veterans like that.
What the Wolves give up in goodguyness (made it up) and basketball talent, they definitely get back with the acquisition of Martell Webster. Martell’s career has been a bit of a struggle so far. After feeling his way from high school to the highest level of basketball competition for two seasons, he broke through during the Blazers breakthrough season as a franchise. The Blazers went 41-41 as their young team (almost exemplified by Martell Webster in a way) started to put the potential into progress.
But after Martell and the Blazers broke out into being taken seriously in the league, he played just five minutes in the 2008-09 season. He was sidelined with a stress fracture in his foot in the pre-season before the season started and then only made a brief appearance in a December game against Raptors before sitting out the rest of the season while trying to heal.
When Martell returned to the Blazers rotation last season (82 games, 49 started, 24.5 minute per game) with a fully healed foot, a lot of the promise he showed before the injury returned. His skill set reads like a GMs ultimate fantasy. He can knock down the three, play lockdown defense against good perimeter defenders and has the athleticism to wow the crowd. And he’ll bring a lot of that to the Wolves.
However, figuring out where Martell is going to play next season might be the key to whether he is successful or not in his time with Minnesota. In case you haven’t paid attention to the Wolves David Kahn five-year plan of forming a full team by drafting just one position each season, year two was the small forward year. Even with acquiring Martell Webster, the Wolves pulled in four small forwards on draft night and a Brazilian center to be forgotten later. And of the four small forwards acquired, Martell is the most likely to be able to play the shooting guard position.
The problem is the idea of him playing shooting guard is sort of a foreign concept. According to 82games.com, Martell Webster played 11% of the allotted shooting guard minutes in Portland during his rookie season, while logging 14% of the minutes at small forward. Unfortunately, that was four years ago and he’s never played more than 4% of the shooting guard minutes in any given season since. In fact, in 2006-07 and 2009-10 he played just 1% of the shooting guard minutes. While it’s really fun to imagine him as a shooting guard because he’s athletic, can shoot and sort of looks like one, the evidence shows that he really doesn’t play there.
And when he does play there, it’s just a small sample size that is all over the board that it’s hard to know if this pipedream of him being a legit 2-guard is… well… legit. Check out the performances at shooting guard and small forward over the past couple of seasons:
It seems nearly impossible to predict that Martell Webster can be the shooting guard on this team based on these sample sizes. Appearance makes him fit the part of the shooting guard role but history says he doesn’t fit the bill. Of course, playing on the same team as Brandon Roy over the past few years makes playing time at the shooting guard position kind of scarce. Roy played 33% of the shooting guard minutes in 09-10, 59% in 07-08 and 42% in 06-07. For Webster to receive a lot of minutes at the shooting guard would have caused the Blazers to put their best player out of position.
But if Roy wasn’t around, would Webster have been the right call as the shooting guard anyway? Last season, he shot 37.3% from three-point range, which is right in line with his 37.2% career rate. According to Synergy Sports, Webster was a 38.3% shooter on spot-up jumpers and a 39.8% shooter on spot-up threes. These spot-up jumpers accounted for 41.6% of his offensive plays that ended in a shot attempt, turnover or trip to the free throw line. While those aren’t terrible percentages, they also don’t make you want to lump him in with the Steve Kerr’s, Reggie Miller’s and Jason Kapono’s of the league. Webster isn’t strong taking the ball to the hole and he’s not a deadeye shooter. So throwing him into the shooting guard position doesn’t scream of guaranteed success.
While this all seems to be a negative case for Martell Webster, my thoughts couldn’t be further from that assessment. The strength of Webster isn’t going to be the offensive production he brings; it will be the defense he brings to the table. The Wolves got killed on defense last year. The perimeter defense was terrible. The interior defense was terrible. The pick-and-roll defense was pretty bad too. And while Webster doesn’t solve all of that, he does provide a lockdown presence on the perimeter that makes the best offensive perimeter forces in the league have to work extra hard.
In most normal seasons, Webster would have been lauded for the defensive presence he was on the floor during the 2009-10 campaign. He didn’t exactly reinvent the way to play perimeter defense but he was a solid road barrier in the way of guys scoring efficiently. Unfortunately for him, he played on the same team as Nicolas Batum who received the highest remarks for his defensive efforts all season (and deservedly so too). Webster is strong enough to body-up the bigger players and still athletic enough to stay with the quick players. His quick leaping ability, quick feet and 6’11” wingspan allow him to challenge jumpers on the perimeter. And best of all, he’ll be able to teach Corey Brewer and Wesley Johnson the tricks of the defensive trade.
Overall, I love the idea of Martell Webster being a Wolf next year, especially when it means having to replace Ryan Gomes. You don’t find many 23-year olds as savvy and veteran (I like using it as an adjective too) as Webster.
Let’s just not fall in love with the idea of him at the shooting guard position just yet…
Here are a few clarifying, explanatory, provocative notes from Friday’s media sessions with the Wolves new draftees, Wes Johnson, Lazar Haywood and Namanja Bjelcia, plus David Kahn and Kurt Rambis.
Its become clear that the Timberwolves have made re-signing Darko Milicic (and, to a lesser extent, Nikola Pecovic) a condition of trading Al Jefferson. “It’s the right time finally for us to explore this,” Kahn said. “I’ve met with Al and discussed this. If Darko comes back, there could be a need to create some playing time. We really need to get our front line settled.” This is slightly unsettling because it suggests that Kahn and Rambis have calibrated their concept of “team need” around Darko’s presence. One wonders: did this factor into their decision to pass on Demarcus Cousins? I am now squirming in my chair.
Kahn predicted that sign-and-trades, rather than straight free-agent signings would dominate the landscape this summer. But, as Myles rightly points out, now that Rudy Gay seems to be off the table it’s not clear which free agents the Wolves might be pursuing. They could certainly attempt use Al to work a Chris Bosh sign-and-trade although I would think that Bosh’s first desire would be to just go wherever Lebron goes. After that, what’s left? Joe Johnson? Carlos Boozer? Amar’e Stoudemire? David Lee? Tyrus Thomas? Amir Johnson? Does any of this make sense?
Or might the Wolves simply save their cap room for next summer, when the Miamis, Chicagos and New Jerseys of the world have already chased their dreams and Carmelo, Joakim Noah, Kendrick Perkins, Al Horford and Nene can all become free agents? The mind boggles.
Kahn adamantly rejected the premise that the Wolves needed to make dramatic changes in order to attract Ricky Rubio. “He’d like us to improve, but we all would,” Kahn said. “I think that what’s important to him is that he feels that he’s ready to play. And he feels that in a year he’ll be more ready to play. Anything else is just fluff.” Ok, then.
This from Kurt Rambis (a sentiment later endorsed by Kahn): “Last year was just what we had to do, business-wise. Now we’re starting to build a team. I’ve always considered this our first year. Last year was just a business year.” I guess we all kind of knew that already. Not sure how much business got done but it sure wasn’t much fun.
Also from Rambis: “Smart players don’t have a problem picking up any offense.” That’s a bold statement. But I feel like it explains a lot of what the Wolves are doing here. They clearly have put a premium on athletic players, like Johnson and Martell Webster, who also happen to be pretty sharp fellas. They may not be the ultimate in terms of pure individual skill but, I’m guessing this thinking goes, they’ll be able to find roles within the offense. They’ll be willing and able to move the ball and move without the ball, to be in position to make plays and then to actually make them.
But still, commenter Mac makes a great point. Last season, the Wolves suffered from a desperate lack of shooting, athleticism and creativity on the wing. Johnson and and Webster take care of the first two but not the third. The team still badly needs a perimeter player who can (intelligently) create his own shot.
I was totally charmed by Johnson’s and Haywood’s giddiness and earnest enthusiasm. They seem like good dudes. I really hope they’re good basketball players.
Bjelica does not speak English well at all. We can only imagine how arduous an entire day spent in the company of strangers, in a country you’ve never before visited, answering questions in a language you barely speak must have been–particularly if those foreign strangers are your future employers. The kid looked sad-eyed and shell-shocked.
The Timberwolves’ draft party seems like it would be kind of fun. Hang out with a bunch of people, watch some huge TV’s, drink some beers, get pumped up for your team’s future. All of those things were there, but the proceedings were, from the start, inflected by the Wolves’ star-crossed history. Within two minutes of walking in, I spotted both a Rashad McCants jersey and a Michael Olowokandi jersey. It was hard to tell whether rocking two of the more spectacular flops in NBA draft history to a draft party were signs of ridiculous naivete or just plain cynicism. Knowing the jaundiced state of Wolves’ fandom, I’m guessing the latter.
And instead of the festive atmosphere that one might expect from fans of a team with five draft picks, the mood was more one of muted acceptance. We’ve just been subjected to too many false starts and reboots to be genuinely excited at the prospect of another; we’ve seen this movie way too many times. When the little fellow called Wesley Johnson’s name and performed his trademarked blindlingly awkward handshake (don’t you sometimes feel that the entire racial history of our country is played out before our eyes in those awful encounters?) the noise that emanated from the Wolves’ faithful (and remember, these are fans intense and committed enough to attend a Minnesota Timberwolves draft party) was something like “eeehhhhmm?”. Not shocked, not elated, not disappointed, just accepting.
So lets us talk about Wesley Johnson. It’s my feeling that, despite the hope and optimism generated by the lottery (at least by teams other than the Wolves and sad Clips), despite the dim possibility of magically picking up a transcendent, franchise-saving player, the only mandate is this: if you draft in the top ten, you must land a quality starter. You can get lucky and land a superstar, but you can also draft Randy Foye. GM’s get yourselves a starter. Wes Johnson has long, muscular arms; he’s got a lovely, economical jumper; he very much wants to play defense; he can jump over the backboard. To me, he is a solid NBA starter and one who does things–move fast, shoot threes, play defense–that the Wolves desperately need.
The only problem is that one of the two guys in the draft who seem to have a chance to be genuinely great, was sitting right there waiting to be chosen. Kahn had a ready explanation for passing on Demarcus Cousins: “We spent most of the last season talking about the lack of length and athleticism and speed on our front line and I didn’t feel that he would improve those areas.” If this, and not Cousins’s (possibly undeserved) rep as an immature hothead is really the reason, it strikes me as a little thin. Consider other players of Cousins’s great size, wingspan and footwork–I’m thinking folks like Pau Gasol and Joel Pryzbilla right now. They are able to use their skill and length to cover ground and challenge shots in the paint; the lack of great athleticism isn’t a huge hindrance. And although Cousins could certainly be in better condition and although the speed and duration of the college game pales in comparison to the NBA, he was able to play well in transition at Kentucky. Wouldn’t you imagine that he as at least a good a chance of being able to withstand the rigors of an up-tempo NBA game as, say, Darko Milicic for instance?
Moving right along, dudes. There’s evidently a great deal of frustration over the Martell Webster deal. It seems to fall along two fronts: first, that its irresponsible to trade a first-round pick for a player who has been, essentially a role player in the NBA. Second: that his skills and position overlap with those of Johnson and Corey Brewer (not to mention possible free agent pickup Rudy Gay). Here’s how I would respond (and I’m very much open to the possibility of being totally wrong about this): does anyone actually believe that Luke Babbitt, or anyone drafted beneath him, will be a better NBA player than Martell Webster? Webster is, like Johnson, 23 years-old and ridiculously athletic. He is an above average three-point shooter. He is a bright, thoughtful guy who loves to play defense. I’m actually on board with Kahn’s explanation, passive voice notwithstanding: “It was felt…that if we could add a young veteran, somebody who has been in the league for a number of years but still was on the young side, and that player could help us as much as a college player could and in some cases more, then that might be the route to go.”
As for the issue of redundancy with Wes Johnson. I’m of the belief that in the NBA right now, a team can never have too many long, athletic shooters who play defense. For way too long, the Wolves have been routinely torched for their deficiencies on the wing. Wes Johnson is a three. Martell Webster is a two. I’m not seeing the problem.
It does make a person wonder a few things, though: is Corey Brewer now going to be consigned to coming off the bench, or are his days, like Ryan Gomes’ now numbered? And now that Rudy Gay seems no longer to be an option, just what will the Wolves do with all of that cap room? Oh, and what about Mr. Jefferson? And I almost forgot the most curious thing of all: why did the Timberwolves trade down to select Lazar Hayward with the 30th pick, a player that could have been had with at 45, free of that guaranteed first-round contract? The Wolves shored up some serious shortcomings on Thursday, but they raised even more questions than they answered. And, ultimately, they failed to address their central concern, the lack of a truly elite player, a player who can give meaning and shape to the rest of this young roster. Seems to me, these loose ends are conspiring to tell us that this off-season is far from over.
“You’ll never make me stay, so take your weight off of me. I know your every move, so won’t you just let me be. I’ve been here times before, but I was too blind to see that you’ll seduce every man, this time you won’t seduce me. You’re saying, “That’s okay, hey baby do what you please. I have the stuff that you want. I am the thing that you need…”
Michael Jackson has been dead for a year now. His final days were spent embroiled in controversy and haunted by questionable decisions, but his contributions to the cultural landscape remain unparalleled. Plainly put, the man knew how to make hits.
David Kahn has been at the helm of our moribund franchise for a year now. Last night, in his first draft since being spurned by mop topped phenom Ricky Rubio, he had another chance for his first hit. In my humble, jaded, yet honest opinion, he failed.
Pick 4: Wesley Johnson, SF, Syracuse
Pick 16: Luke Babbit, SF, Nevada*
Pick 23: Trevor Booker, PF, Clemson**
Pick 45: Paulao Prestes, C, Brazil
*traded to Portland along with Ryan Gomes in exchange for Martell Webster
**traded to Washington along with Pick 56, Hamadi N’diaye in exchange for Pick 30, Lazar Hayward and Pick 35 Namanja Bjelcia
The dream of Evan Turner proved to be just that, the specter of an unhinged DeMarcus Cousins was apparently unbearable, Al Jefferson’s trade value depreciates with every rumor and we are now the proud owners of a 22 year old lottery pick with a skill set that duplicates our most coveted-and attainable-free agent.
Plainly put, this is just……Bad.
I’ll be back later with some thoughts from my compatriots who may be a bit more optimistic than I am.
It’s on, homies. The Timberwolves our right now facing the biggest night of the post-KG era. Lets not fool ourselves with predictions or pipe dreams. The truth is, nobody knows what’s going to happen. All we can do is allow the questions to loll about in our heads, to face that essentially Timberwolvian sensation of overwhelming dread mixed with faint hope.
The immediate questions: is New Jersey serious about Wesley Johnson, or is David Kahn just getting royally played? Is Al Jefferson seeing his final sunrise as a T-Wolf? and if so, will the Wolves parlay the moody Mississippian into another top-1o pick, or a coveted young veteran like Rudy Gay or Danny Granger (or, more troubling, just another salary dump)?
And the long-term questions: did Demarcus Cousins, by multiple measures the most productive player in college basketball last year, do so badly on his psychological evaluations that four teams, the Wolves included, are willing to pass him by? Just how good will this dude be? And what will Derrick Favors be like when he’s not an 18-year-old boy? And is any of this enough to entice Ricky Rubio?
And finally, the basic, awful question at the heart of it all: will the Wolves ever be done rebuilding?
Myles will be with you tonight. Tomorrow we’ll all try to pick up the pieces. Hold on to your faces.
Who’s up for some rumo(u)rs? The internet is simply abuzz. Firsties, Andy Katz at Truehoop reports on the chatter that the Nets have been getting sweet on Wes Johnson. What’s more, says Katz, they’ve been trying to pry Al Jefferson away from good olde MN:
“Johnson told ESPN that he could see himself fit well with New Jersey. According to a source close to Rob Pelinka, Johnson’s agent, the Nets have said Johnson’s professionalism and ability to contribute immediately are major reasons why he has moved ahead of Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors on Jersey’s board. New Nets coach Avery Johnson, according to sources, wants a player who is low maintenance and can have an impact. Johnson answers that on all fronts.”
Seconds, Chad Ford, also a Truehoopist, says that if Johnson is gone, the Wolves would settle for Favors, and that this would be just fine indeed:
“Sources in Minnesota are saying that they’ll take Derrick Favors at No. 4 if Evan Turner and Johnson are off the board. The Wolves may be bummed by this development, but I think it’s a great deal. The team lucked into Rubio at No. 5 last year and get a steal with Favors at No. 4 this year. Those two together could be awesome down the road.”
“However, the latest thing I’m hearing out of Minnesota may have the most legs. Sources have told me that the Wolves and Grizzlies have been discussing a swap that would send Jefferson to the Grizzlies for Zach Randolph. The deal would allow the Wolves to save a lot of money over time. Randolph has one year, $17.6 million left on his contract. Jefferson has three years, $42 million left.”
Whoa, dudes. Update: Apparently, this thing is dead. Probably for the best.
“The Grizzlies have discussed trading their late first-round draft picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves in an attempt to move up in Thursday’s NBA draft.
A potential deal that would have the Griz exchanging their picks at 25 and 28 for the Timberwolves’ 16th selection has not been agreed upon but is one of several possibilities being seriously considered.”
Lastly, President Obama has relieved Gen. Stanley McChrystal of his duties as Afghanistan field commander. Does this mean that McChrystal could fall to the Wolves at 16? Sources say that Minnesota likes his length and athleticism but that he’s a bit on the old side for what the Wolves are trying to do (he turns 56 in August).
Did I say that Hassan Whiteside looks like an NBA player? Well Wes Johnson really, really looks like an NBA player. How do these dudes possibly get arms this long? On Tuesday evening, Johnson showed off all of the skills that Zach so ably enumerated: the classic mid-range jumper; the three-point range; the startling quickness and leaping ability; the energy and tenacity (and all of that while struggling with a sore toe, which is much more painful and hindering than it sounds). I’ll tell you, I never get used to the strangeness of seeing such large, long-limbed people move so economically and effortlessly.
On top of all that, he’s a sweet, smile-y kid who seems to really enjoy playing basketball. (And the fact that he idolizes Scottie Pippen over Michael Jordan is somehow extremely encouraging.) He might not ever be an offensive superstar, but I am totally untroubled by the idea of Wes Johnson as a Timberwolf. Here’s his Jonah Ballow interview with a few clips from the workout thrown in at the end:
And here’s David Kahn’s interview. I’m only including this because, at the very end of the clip, Kahn confesses that he misjudged Steph Curry’s ability to play point guard in the NBA and that this was an important factor in passing him over in favor of Jonny Flynn. This is fair; many people had doubts about Curry’s ability to play the point. But I wonder: what made him think that Flynn would be any better?
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.