Wesley Johnson excited for ‘new beginning’ in Phoenix after disappointing years in Minnesota


The Phoenix Suns introduce new wing Wesley Johnson, a player who could revive his career in Phoenix. (Photo by Michael Schwartz/ValleyoftheSuns)

PHOENIX — Two years into his NBA career, Wesley Johnson is a certifiable draft bust.

Johnson followed up a weak rookie campaign in which he averaged nine points on 39.7 percent shooting by going for 6.0 on 39.8 percent marksmanship.

The fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft has put up PERs of 10.20 and 8.08, Wins Produced numbers well below average and plus-minus figures that showed last year at least the Wolves were considerably better when he rode the bench.

Yet the Phoenix Suns want him to forget all of that. They want him to forget that he was selected ahead of rising studs such as DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe and Paul George and just play his game.

“It was kind of rough,” Johnson said. “Really I learned a lot from it. It’s a new beginning. I can erase all that and start over.

“I tried to make it work, but they had different roles they wanted me to do and wanted me to fit, and it wasn’t working out. I tried to go out and do the best I could, but all around, it wasn’t a good fit.”

By any measure, Johnson is absolutely right that it just wasn’t working for him in Minnesota. But now instead of feeling the pressure of being a top-five pick who is supposed to be a franchise savior, Johnson can just be himself amid a group of incoming young players searching for that next level in their careers as well.

Whereas in Minnesota he was supposed to become a star based on his draft position, in Phoenix he will be just another backup wing trying to inject the squad with a boost of energy and athleticism. If he plays solid defense and runs the floor, he will be doing his job. Anything else will be a bonus.

This sort of rebirth after moving on is certainly nothing new for Johnson, as he went down the same road in college after transferring to Syracuse following a pair of lackluster seasons at Iowa State.

Johnson averaged 12.3 and 12.4 points on 44.5 percent and 39.5 percent shooting, respectively, during his two seasons as a Cyclone. Then the smooth operator transferred to Syracuse and exploded for 16.5 a game on 50 percent shooting while more than doubling his rebounding average from his sophomore year all the way up to 8.5 a game.

“I think with the blank slate is just me coming fresh, it’s repeating itself like with me from Iowa State dealing with the stuff and then coming to Syracuse,” Johnson said.

Johnson feels like he has landed in an ideal place to jump start his career, saying the news of the trade being done put “a huge smile” on his face.

He believes the Suns’ open style of play fits how he likes to play basketball and that it could be a system he thrives in.

“It suits me,” Johnson said. “It’s going to enhance my skills.”

Although he is 25 years old, the Suns see Johnson as a young 25 because he actually played in the post back in high school and has only played two seasons in the league with a lockout in between.

All summer long the Suns have hyped the player development program they have put in place, and Johnson will be a serious test of that program’s effectiveness as despite his lackluster career thus far he’s still a player that GM Lance Blanks said is in the “upper percentile of athletes in the league,” and he possesses the tools to be a good jump shooter even if he has not quite been that as an NBA player.

“Wes is a young man who is emerging, as we see it,” Blanks said. “Shoots the ball extremely well. I think given his role and comfort his statistics haven’t always reflected that, but he’s very capable and in other areas whether he’s guarding on the perimeter or putting the ball on the floor, he’s still growing, which is something that we’re excited that we’ll provide an environment where he can continue to grow here in Phoenix.”

Minnesota gambled by taking Johnson fourth overall over players with higher ceilings, but for the Suns this acquisition has little downside considering he will provide wing depth at worst, was acquired for so little and still possesses the athleticism to be a productive player in this league.

Perhaps the front office seems a bit too excited about a player who has been so far below average as an NBA player, but Johnson certainly appears to have landed in a perfect situation for him to turn his career around.

Clarification on pick from Minnesota

After talking to PBO Lon Babby after the presser today, I got final confirmation on all the complicated scenarios surrounding the first-round pick the Suns received in the Wes Johnson deal.

As I reported last week, Minnesota’s first-rounder will be top-13 protected in 2013 and 2014 and top-12 protected in 2015 and 2016. Minnesota also owns a lottery-protected Memphis pick that could potentially go to Phoenix as part of this deal.

The below describes all the potential scenarios for the conveyance of the selection:

  • If both the Memphis and Minnesota picks convey, the Suns will get the worse of the two picks.
  • If neither of the picks convey, it will roll over to the following season.
  • If Memphis conveys but Minnesota doesn’t, the pick will roll over to the following season and the Suns will only be looking at a future selection from Minnesota. This was the part I wasn’t clear on and it was what largely held up the trade, according to Babby. The Suns can only receive the Memphis pick if Minnesota also makes the playoffs and the Grizzlies possess the worse selection.
  • If Minnesota conveys but Memphis doesn’t then the Suns will get the Minnesota pick.
  • If none of these scenarios play out in four years then the Suns will receive a pair of second-rounders.

Based on these scenarios, Suns fans should either be rooting for Memphis and Minnesota to be something like Nos. 7 and 8 in the West or just for the Grizz to make the playoffs next season and for the Wolves to be in the top 13 of the draft to get what’s likely to be a fairly poor Memphis pick out of the equation.

From there the pick would roll over to the following draft, and Suns fans would only have to root for the Wolves to receive a low playoff seed or be one of the best lottery teams in the coming years.

And 1

  • Johnson said that former Wolves forward Michael Beasley texted him that they “can’t get rid of each other” as they both journey on to Phoenix together. Johnson described Beasley’s potential as “endless” and also said his game is “unstoppable” at times.
  • Babby joked that he feels “a lot older than [he] did three months ago” because by my calculations the team’s average age is now 26 and experience a hair over four years with vets Grant Hill and Steve Nash now out of the picture. Considering all the NBA graybeards the Suns have employed in recent seasons, it seems incomprehensible that the 27-year-old Sebastian Telfair would be the team’s longest-tenured player with eight years of NBA experience. The 32-year-old Scola is the team’s oldest player, but he spent several years in Spain whereas Bassy joined the league straight out of high school.
  • Babby opened the presser by saying he offered to take Johnson out to dinner on Monday night, but he declined so he could go on a date with “his better half,” Melissa, because they have two-month old twins and thus not much free time at home these days.
  • Blanks said the calls from agents of wing players have ceased after this acquisition. When Dudley was the only natural wing under contract not too long ago, I’m sure Blanks received his fair share of such inquiries.