In order to appreciate Wesley Johnson as a basketball player you have to separate his contributions from the fact that he was taken 4th overall in the 2010 draft. The label ” bust” often does more damage to a player’s career than his actual skill in finding a way to stick on a NBA roster. Wesley Johnson has the talent to be a good NBA player. He’s just starting to figure out what he is in the League, which is a “3 and D” role player.
In his first season with the Lakers, Johnson had his best season as a pro, with career highs in scoring, field goal percentage, blocks, steals, three point percentage, free throw percentage, rebounds, and assists. With that being said, his numbers were modest. He averaged 9.1 ppg, with 4.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.0 block. He shot 43% from the field in 28.4 minutes a game.With Johnson, you have to dig deeper to find his true value. He was second among all small forwards in blocks.
He was the Lakers “swing” player, logging minutes at shooting guard, small forward, and for the first time in his career, power forward. Offensively, he played within himself, strictly taking long jumpers and finishing plays at the rim. He shot a respectable 37% from three and a excellent 64% at the rim.
The Lakers coaching staff took an interest to Johnson’s athleticism. They designated him with the toughest defensive assignments and encouraged his weak side shot blocking help. After three years of being in offenses that didn’t suit his talents, Mike D’Antoni’s system showed Johnson’s potential to be a productive Thabo Sefolosha type starter.
Johnson is reluctant to use the dribble to find his own shot, with 80% percent of his field goals and 96% of his three pointers coming off assists. He needs to be set up. He is an effective offensive rebounder and should have been more aggressive with making backside cuts. With some emulation of players like Shawn Marion and Avery Bradley, Johnson could maximize his physical gifts. In flashes this season he showed what was possible.
In the end, you can’t discuss Wesley Johnson without talking about consistency. Johnson might be one of the most maddeningly inconsistent players in the league. He had 23 games with 5 points or less, 19 games with 2 blocks or more, 14 games with 15 points or more, and 3 games without a rebound.
When focused, there were times Johnson looked like an elite defender and a steal for the Lakers. Other times you can understand how he’s become a journeyman. Perhaps no player on this year’s team could have benefitted more by Kobe Bryant’s on court presence.
As a free agent going into next season, Johnson is again at a crossroads. If Mike D’Antoni returns as head coach he would be a good fit in the rotation. With the returns of Xavier Henry, Jodie Meeks, Kent Bazemore, and Nick Young a distinct possibility, Johnson may be the odd man out in the Lakers’ future plans.
He has proven this year he is a solid NBA rotation player, but with all that talent and athleticism and skill, and at age 26, you have to wonder if Johnson himself wants to be more than that. If he could figure that out or a coach could pull that out of him, he’d be a hell of a player. Unfortunately for him, today’s NBA has little patience for potential.