Wesley Johnson, the touted swingman out of Syracuse, never transitioned to the NBA. The potential that made him a lock for the NBA lottery will never be realized. What's left once the expectations are stripped away is a small forward the Los Angeles Lakers can trust to play X amount of minutes for the veteran's minimum. He only has four years of NBA experience, but at 27, the oil rigs have stopped drilling for all that valuable potential. He is what he is.
Lakers season preview
Lakers season preview
Johnson is one of two top-four players from the 2010 NBA Draft that can serve as a wet blanket to douse any blazing rookie expectations. The wing he was competing with most on draft boards, Evan Turner, is the other. Turner was a dominant college player who could do just about everything, but now he can't even get his veteran's minimum contract with the Boston Celtics ironed out. Both players should make any fan with a lottery talent joining their favorite team nauseous with fear. It's nerve-wracking to look at how well both players scouted out coming into the NBA. Potential doesn't always become reality, and Turner and Johnson are clear examples of why the draft is a high-stakes craps game.
So why bring Johnson back? Well, for one, despite all the things he isn't and never will be, he still has tangible skills that matter. How about making 80 of his 194 (41.2 percent) spot-up three-point attempts, according to Synergy Sports Technology? How about putting out an efficient 1.22 points per possession on cuts? How about some much-needed athleticism, particularly on defense and in transition:
These are the things that define Wesley Johnson, the NBA player. Was it a safe play to bring him back at the veteran's minimum? Abso-freaking-lutely. The Lakers are short on talent and he checks off plenty of boxes as arguably the only true small forward on the roster. He's coming off career highs in points per game, all three shooting percentages (FG, 3P, FT), rebounds, steals, blocks and minutes. Los Angeles had plenty of responsibility to shovel at Johnson last season, and for the price tag, he delivered above expectations.
He'll never be a dominant scorer, but he can be an effective one, which is more than most bottom-tier players can say. He shot 62.4 percent in the restricted area, according to NBA.com, and the majority of his shot attempts (28.6 percent) were distributed here. Johnson could cut down on mid-range jumpers, but for the most part, his shooting splits indicate he knows his own limitations. His shooting-efficiency (points per shot) chart does a great job of painting his shooting profile:
All that orange around the rim? That's good. The small portion of blue dots in the mid-range? It's bad he shoots so poorly in these areas, but the low-volume is good. The above-the-break fire he put on? Great. This kind of efficiency, along with everything else he brings to the table, makes for a solid player. That's an important distinction to make. This isn't burn-out Michael Beasley. This isn't Evan "Google me because you have no idea where I am at this point of my career" Turner. Wesley Johnson was hoisted from the top of prospect mountain but resurrected himself as a serviceable basketball player.
Consider the fact he's only 27 with 6731 minutes played throughout his career. Consider the fact he was burdened by expectations and chaos with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Consider the fact the Lakers were his third team in as many seasons last year. Many MANY things must go right for a player to reach his ceiling. Some of those things just didn't happen for Wesley Johnson, but he's stuck with it. He's quietly found his place in the NBA, and the Lakers need him about as much as he needs them.
Sure, he has plenty of flaws as a basketball player. He's terrible at creating his own shot, is a shaky ball-handler at best, should probably make more of an impact rebounding, drives me crazy when he doesn't throw down the kind of monster dunks he's shown and can't hit a transition three to save his life (5-of-26 last season), but that's expected with minimum-level players. There will be flaws. The question that really matters is: Do the pros outweigh the cons with said player?
With Wesley Johnson it's evident they do, just don't expect more than the timid player he's become. Feel free to dream, though.