Name: Wesley Johnson
Position: Small Forward
Experience: 6 years
Key Stats: Last year Johnson averaged 6.9ppg, 3.1rpg, and 1.6apg. He shot 40.4% from the field, 33.3% from 3, and 65.2% from the line. He played a shade under 21mpg.
Contract Status: Johnson signed a 3 year, 18 million dollar contract this past offseason.
Breakdown: Back when Johnson was drafted by the Timberwolves at 4 in 2010, I badly pined for him. I was actually fairly ok with the AFA pick the Clippers made, but Johnson felt like a tantalizing specimen just a few picks earlier. He absolutely looks the part of an ideal small-forward: he’s athletic, long, fast, and can finish at the rim. When I saw at Syracuse, I thought he could possibly be a Shawn Marion type. (woof) There were great expectations for Johnson when he was picked up last year.. Many, including myself, felt he was the best fit alongside the starters given his ability to play decent defense along with decent offense.. Well, we didn’t quite get that.
Many fans were hoping Johnson could improve on his stats coming from that other LA team since he’d get many open looks playing with great passers such as Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. That didn’t happen. Johnson’s shooting stats went down across the board. Much was made out of Johnson’s quality 50% shooting from the right corner, but it particularly sticks out considering he shot bad enough everywhere else to bring his 3 point % to 33%.
Johnson looks the role, but his deficiencies as an all-around basketball player were badly exposed. Johnson was initially seen as the yang to Luc Mbah a Moute’s yin, the offense to M&M’s defense.. However, it was clear very early on that there were only a couple things Johnson could do well even on offense; shoot wide open threes, and finish at the rim. Everything in between was awful. The moment Johnson dribbled a basketball the chances of getting a bucket would drop dramatically with each dribble. Johnson had his flashes though, and his strengths are shown well in this early highlight from last season. Particularly? Catch and shoot.
Johnson’s help defense wasn’t bad last year, but he’d get lost during his man defense and would often let his emotions get the best of him when needing to stay in a play. Mbah a Moute was the easy choice when the team needed defensive stops, and if Johnson wasn’t hitting shots, there was little reason to trust him over Mbah a Moute.
Now, it absolutely bears mentioning that Johnson played with plantar fasciitis last year, an injury notorious for destroying a player’s season. From years of playing fantasy basketball, it was always a quiet rule to avoid a player with plantar fasciitis for the season if you could afford to. Why is that? Because the best known remedy for it is rest. From Superstars like Tim Duncan to great role players like Brad Miller, many players have had sub-par seasons while dealing with this injury. The good news is most players seem to bounce back after an offseason where they’re off their feet. Johnson was quoted earlier in the summer saying his feet were “100% better.” In describing his injury, Johnson said, “It would be like a sharp pain all the time in the bottom of my feet. Being out of that and now being able to run and jump again, it feels great.”
Many savvy basketball heads tend to think Johnson’s price tag in the current market is a good deal. People following advanced metrics, including our own Adithya, will mention Johnson’s stats in the Portland series, particularly Johnson’s surprisingly high net positive rating when he was in the game. But to me, that Portland series felt like a lot of Twilight Zone, and Johnson didn’t quite pass the eye test whenever I watched him. He’s a limited player that was made even more limited by injury. However, it happens that he can succeed on this team, because the team needs a supporting player that can excel in the kind of things Johnson might be able to do. Johnson has had great moments of defensive intensity and steady shot making, his effort in the home comeback against the Thunder particularly come to mind, but he needs to be more consistent to be really seen as an answer to the small forward conundrum.
Outlook for 2016-17: Now, just because Johnson first year as a Clipper was disappointing doesn’t mean he can’t find a quality role on this team. On the contrary, I am very much looking forward to a healthy Johnson and I think he can win over that starting small forward job. I love what Mbah a Moute brings to the table defensively, but I have been very worried for a long time how awkward the spacing will be with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan both trying to operate in the paint with Mbah a Moute’s man ignoring him completely. Johnson is at least a threat from deep where Mbah a Moute isn’t even interested in shooting, and perhaps Johnson can show more consistency on the defensive end now that his feet are feeling better. I feel like Mbah a Moute can also fit with the second unit considering his defensive prowess and the fact that the second unit will already be loaded with shooters, but that’ll be worth discussing during his player preview.
Doc Rivers has already been quoted that the small forward position is completely up for grabs, and it’ll be interesting to see if Johnson will be rejuvenated and ready to separate himself from the pack. He’s always looked the role, now it’s just a matter of seeing him live up some to the hype.