Wesley Johnson looks like he should be one of the best basketball players in the NBA. With a mammoth wingspan and still-freakish athleticism, the swingman simply looks like he was put on this Earth for one reason: to play basketball, and to do it very, very well. Two seasons into his Los Angeles Lakers career, it's evident that if you judged this book by its cover, you'd expect Henry David Thoreau, only to find that the text was by E.L James.
Wesley Johnson is not the star some -- but by no means all -- thought he would be. He has not utilized his physical gifts to their effective peaks, nor has his athleticism taken him places his basketball intellect could not. There's no need to look into the numbers--no one, not even Wes himself, would describe him as a star-caliber player. This statement has long since been a surprise to no one.
However, an effective role player? That was the hope that most Lakers fans had when Johnson signed up with the team two summers ago for the veteran's minimum. With his length, strength and speed, many felt that given the opportunity, Wes could morph into a defensive stopper, finisher on the break and spot-up shooter. The minutes would be there and on a squad with almost no expectations, the pressure was minimal. Was Corey Brewer too lofty of a career goal?
Two seasons in, even a target like Corey Brewer seems like a pipe dream.
With 155 games under his belt as a member of the two worst Los Angeles Lakers teams of all time, there's almost no doubt that Johnson is not fit to be a playoff rotation player, or maybe even a NBA player in general.
Wes has had essentially zero competition for minutes the past two years, battling the likes of Xavier Henry, Nick Young, Manny Harris and Shawne Williams for court time. He's been in the middle of a run and gun Mike D'Antoni offense and took the most three point shots on Byron Scott's squad. Johnson has shifted all over the court, playing shooting guard and both forward spots, as well as being given the chance to guard players all over the depth chart. If there's been a basketball situation the past two years, Wes has likely been in the middle of it.
The result? On the surface, nothing too terrible. This past season, he averaged 9.5 ppg and 3.4 rpg on .414/.351/.804 shooting. Not spectacular, but those numbers are certainly far from horrible. However, looking deeper, all that production was done in nearly 30 minutes per game for an 11.1 PER. I'm not the biggest proponent of PER out there, but from an offensive efficiency standpoint, it can be very telling of a player's performance. In Wes's case? Pretty accurate.
Essentially, the problem is that when Johnson is on the floor, he's just a body. As a 6'7" guy, he can finish dunks, move the ball around the perimeter, grab rebounds that are within his area and sometimes stay in front of his opponent. However, aside from catch and shoot possessions and fast breaks, Johnson hasn't given the Lakers any production that would separate him from the most average guys in the league. As I've written many times, Wes is the very essence of a replacement-level player. He's not actively hurting the team in any discernible way, but at the same time, he's certainly not helping beyond being an active, able body.
What's worse is that between the two seasons, Johnson hasn't improved at all--and in some ways, he may have gotten worse. As I wrote earlier this year, the key problem is that, given any time to make a conscious basketball decision, Wes's performance suffers greatly. On catch and shoot? Put backs? Fast break dunks? No problem, as the former Orangeman can finish. However, if it's off the dribble? Or in a double team? Forget about it.
The biggest problem with Wes Johnson is that at this point, he's purely making his bones off freak athleticism and a perfect basketball body. He has no real skill that would distinguish him anywhere on the court and any semblance of upside he had, even for being a mere role player, has been doused...heavily. Johnson suffered for years from the stigma of his draft position as well as being blessed by looking like an absolute premiere athlete. However, as the latter begins to fade with Wes approaching age 30, it's no longer a question of whether or not he'll be a star or a valuable role player, but rather, if he will even be an NBA professional.
These past two years with the Lakers were the greatest gift Johnson's ever had in his career: a chance to shine with zero pressure. However, with those two years in the books, no real improvement in his play and no NBA skill to market, it seems like what was once Johnson's best showcase for his talents may have actually doomed his NBA future.
Look, he works hard, trains hard and is, by all accounts, a stand up guy in the locker room. For another year or so, that may get him a training camp invite or perhaps even a guaranteed deal as a 12th man on the bench. But all things considered, no one should be surprised if this last, horrid season in Lakers history was the last on Wesley Johnson's stat sheet.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino