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Clippers 2018-2019 Player Previews: In Defense of Wes Johnson

Wes Johnson hasn’t lived up to expectations, but Clips fans ought to settle down.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Basic Information:

Age: 31

Years in the NBA: 8

Position: Small Forward

Height: 6’ 7”

Weight: 215

Key Stats: In 74 appearances, Wes averaged 20 minutes, 5.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, and one steal per game. He was a below average shooter at 40.8% from the field and 33.9% from three-point range.

Contract Status: Wes is in the last year of the infamous three-year deal he signed going into the 2016-17 season (he had a player option this summer). He will make $6.1 mil this season and be an unrestricted next summer.

My Defense:

When Johnson signed his three-year deal in 2016, we knew we were overpaying for an average player who was rapidly losing the potential for growth. But it’s important to remember the moment the NBA was in two years ago. With the NBA cap expanding, we started seeing players get seemingly huge contracts that we told ourselves would grow to be proportional to prior salary caps as things adjusted. Now, I don’t want to pretend to be a cap expert; rather, I only raise this point as a reminder to those in Clippers Nation who resent Wes for earning more than his play might suggest he deserves. He was the beneficiary of the context of the time, and only the Clippers’ front office ought to be blamed.

Our expectations for Wes also have to be weighed in respect to who the Clippers might have signed instead. Namely, Matt Barnes, who the Clippers were rumored to be considering at the time. Barnes isn’t even in the league anymore, so it’s fair to say, although Wes hasn’t been great, that he’s been more productive than Barnes. The Clippers, in 2016 and during the whole Lob City era, were severely strapped and without much roster flexibility. It made sense to keep Wes at slightly over his value instead of trying to introduce a new player into a Clippers offense that had no room for anyone who expected to get shots or any glory. Wes — the man who doesn’t even have a social media presence — was perfect.

Ironically, Wes is now the longest tenured Clipper on this roster. His contract, of course, has a lot to do this with this, given that teams are not willing to take it on in a trade. Even though he is the lone survivor of the Lob City Clippers, he will play the same role as he has in the past: The backup small forward who will likely be productive in only 30-40% of his minutes. Wes never tricked us—he has always been this player and the current disdain for him is only a product of our unfounded optimism for what we thought he could or should be. Sure, players are expected to get better over time, but the reality is teams have to take responsibility when that growth doesn’t happen.

Leave Wes alone!

Season Expectations:

Pending a change in the Clippers’ roster, Wes will play behind Harris, Mbah a Moute, and Gallinari, as well as contend with the three-guard lineups for minutes. Unless the Clippers have an injury spree like last year, Wesley shouldn’t average more than a couple minutes per game. His greatest strength — his defense — won’t give him an advantage in getting minutes with Luc back in LA and the defensive strength of the Clipper guards.

I can imagine a world in which Wes gets hot over a month or so and the Clippers intentionally try to raise his profile to convince a team that he can be productive, with his expiring contract being an insurance policy. (Basically I’m dreaming of a situation that resembles when the Clippers brought in Jeff Green, who was on an expiring contract, right before the trade deadline.)

Off the court, my hope is that Wes can help the younger players - especially a guy like Johnathan Motley who is very athletic but will struggle to feel at “home” in the NBA as a two-way player - learn to become “professionals”. The Clippers want players who work hard, don’t create drama, and are willing to accept their roles as average NBA players, and Wes is the perfect mentor for that type of professional growth. I hope even more, of course, that they are able to take the steps Wes hasn’t been able to, and improve on the court as well.