Wesley Johnson has been raising eye brows all throughout the Suns training camp at San Diego this past week. Johnson came into the league with huge expectations as the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Johnson ahead of guys like DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Gordon Hayward and Greg Monroe. After Johnson arrived in Minnesota, it was clear that he wasn’t ready to play in the NBA; which is why he ultimately wound up in Phoenix.
Suns head coach Alvin Gentry has been known to be a player’s coach, often getting the most out of his young players, and he’s certainly has had an effect on Wesley Johnson. So assuming this change of scenery from Minnesota to Phoenix can have the same effect on Johnson game as a change from Iowa State to Syracuse in his college days, the Suns might just have themselves a steal. Well, this may bring up the question, just how good can Wesley Johnson be?
As of right now Johnson certainly has the physical attributes to being a high caliber player in this league, he’s got long arms, great defensive instincts, and high level athleticism which has already allowed Johnson to become a good defender in league. What Johnson has to build on now is his offensive play.
Wesley Johnson has attempted 126 free throws in his two years in the NBA; Kevin Durant has MADE 133 free throws in last year’s playoffs. Much like Shannon Brown, Johnson’s shaky handle and his complacency to just stand out on the perimeter has been hindered his game, even back at Syracuse he only averaged 4.1 free throw attempts a game. Johnson may not have the handles to get himself to the rim on a consistent basis but he can make up for that by cutting hard to the basket, fighting for offensive rebounds, and posting up smaller guards every chance he gets.
Johnson shot 36% from downtown as a rookie, a solid number by all means given he averaged about 4 long ball attempts a game. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to build on that as his 3 point% fell to 31% last season which I think was caused more so by the lockout than his shooting ability. Johnson needs to get his shooting numbers back to where it was two seasons ago, and build on that. Should he become a solid defender who can knock down 3s, that will keep him in the league for a long long time.
Johnson also needs to get back to that rebounding machine that he was in college. Johnson averaged 8.5 rebounds a game during his final college season at Syracuse but that hasn’t translated to the NBA. Johnson has averaged 4.6 & 4.8 rebounds per 40 minutes throughout his first two seasons, that number doesn’t necessarily has to get as high as his college numbers but it needs to get better; someone with his size, length and athletic ability should be getting more rebounds.
Bottom line, Johnson has a lot to work on, and unfortunately he doesn’t exactly have a ton of time to do it. Don’t buy into the myth that he showed flashes of brilliance back in Minnesota, he did a little bit in his rookie season but he didn’t score 20 points even once last season. The best that Johnson can be at this point is an old Grant Hill, a good defender who can knock down shots, and can rebound here and there. That’s a huge compliment at this point, saying that he can be an old Grant Hill, because Hill is still playing at the age of 40 and is playing at a high level. It’s a shame Grant Hill didn’t stay in Phoenix because he would’ve been the perfect mentor for Johnson.
Wesley Johnson is already 25 years old. Most NBA players hit their prime by that age. It’s not often that a player and take a huge step forward as a player in their late 20s, it’s so rare in fact, I can’t think of another player other than Steve Nash who has done so recently. Not by any means am I saying Johnson won’t ever reach his full potential, because crazier things have happened but personally I won’t be putting all cookies in that jar. Johnson is in the perfect position to succeed, should he fail to have a break-out year this season he’ll be playing somewhere else next season as the Suns will most likely decline to pick his option after this season.