Wesley Johnson - Jr. SF, Syracuse
Per36min numbers against Quality Opponents (22 games):
16.8pts, 8.6rebs, 1.7asts, 1.0stls, 1.8blks, 2.6 TOs, 2.3 PFs
49.3 FG%, 39.7 3pt% (31/78), 77.5 FT%, .41 FTA/FGA
A guy who wasn’t in the minds of many, if not all of the scouts who were trying to peg first round prospect to start out the year; Wesley Johnson has turned himself from an unknown to a guy in the conversation to be a top-5 pick in this draft. Unfortunately, his season did not end as he’d hope, as the Orangemen were bounced in the Sweet-16 by Butler. In that game, Johnson appeared to play within the offense, instead of going out and attempting to take over. That was the norm for Wes this season, and is likely one of the few reasons he isn’t being talked about in the same breath as Turner.
Standing 6’7 and sporting a wiry build at around 206lbs, Johnson isn’t built to bang inside with the bigs. That didn’t stop him from pulling down a respectable number of boards for a SF, however, and while some of that is due to him playing PF for a good portion of his minutes, much more can be attributed to his elite athleticism. Johnson can absolutely jump out of the gym and also sports excellent straight-line speed. He also has incredible stamina and frequently would play all 40 minutes for the Orangemen. There is little doubt that he will be among the best athletes in the NBA at the SF spot the minute he steps onto the floor, and while this is something he should regularly attempt to take advantage of by attacking the rim, he either cannot or does not because he’s not confident in his handling ability.
Because of that fact, Johnson is primarily a jumpshooter. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, because he possesses one of the better strokes in the draft, regardless of position. Even though he injured his thumb against Providence about halfway through the conference schedule, an injury which affected his shooting mechanics, he still managed to net the 3rd highest 3pt% out of all the players who made more than 1 three-pointer a game; while also being one of only five perimeter players boasting a PPP over 1.00. His limited ball-handling ability meant that many of his jumpers came in catch-and-shoot situations, or after one or two dribbles to help create separation.
Wes utilizes shot fakes very well compared to the other draft prospects that operate primarily from the perimeter. Around once or twice a game, you would see him fake a shot, then dribble inside the arc and either attack the basket if there was a lane, or pull up for an open 16-18 footer. This is one of the main ways Wes created space for himself to get to the basket, but he also showed decent ability to blow by the slower SFs or PFs that were guarding him. Although in the NBA there will be a great athlete against him every night, so I wonder if this will skew his ratio or jumpers to at-the-rim buckets even more.
Keeping with that trend, his post game was rarely used, and when he did post-up, he would pivot and face up to attempt jumpers as his lack of strength didn’t allow him to back down defenders even if there was a mismatch. This is one of the main reasons why Wes will have to improve (or display) his ball-handling ability, because he will transition from being a SF/PF, to a SG/SF in the NBA. However, when he’s allowed to leak inside because the defender is worried about his 3pt shot, Wes can absolutely throw down some impressive dunks because of his extraordinary leaping ability and knack for adjusting mid-air to corral the ball even if it’s thrown behind him.
From a playmaking standpoint, Wes does a good job of making the simple passes as well as rotating the ball to make the correct play for the team. This does not mean he possesses outstanding court vision for a SF prospect, because he does not, but he understood Boeheim’s offensive plan where he was a huge plus offensively. The rare times he does attempt a flashy or risky pass, they seem to connect far more often than not, so while he may not be the most skilled passer, he’s a pretty smart passer. However, because he rarely was asked to handle the ball, and when he did handle it, he seemed to be a tad wild or uncomfortable; his playmaking may be confined to stationary half-court situations.
As mentioned before, Johnson also does a good job rebounding the basketball. His 8.6 rebounds per 36 minutes placed him in the upper portion of the SF draft prospects, and while his athleticism certainly helps, his fundamentals also deserve credit. Even though he does not possess great strength, Wes is able to box out larger opponents due to understanding positioning and being quicker off his feet. This is apparent on both ends of the court, where he can be seen leaking in the lane to rise up and slam the ball home on a thunderous put-back; or on the defensive end where he’ll get inside a larger opponent and box him out. This skill will translate well to the NBA level, but as he’ll likely be playing far fewer minutes at PF and be more of a perimeter player, the opportunities will likely decrease. So while Wes will help his team in the rebounding department, continuing these high numbers should not be expected.
Last but not least, Wes certainly has the tools to be a great defender. His wingspan measured out as being pretty good for a wing, and it’s likely that all of his athletic numbers will be among the best. However, from what I saw of Wes in the Syracuse zone, he is certainly a gambler and not very fundamentally sound. Numerous times Wes would be called to the sideline where a red-faced Boeheim would be chewing him out for missing an assignment or for allowing his man to get by him because Wes would be reaching for a steal. Now, this gambling nature also caused many positive plays for his team, and this can be seen in his high steal and block numbers for a wing player; however it did not effectively decrease the efficiency of the players who came into his part of the zone.
Now, much of this could be attributed to him playing in a man-scheme his whole life, so in the zone he felt out of place. This could also be attributed to him thinking Onuaku or Jackson would essentially pick up the man who Johnson let past. Whatever the case, while there were many impressive weakside plays made by Johnson which should continue to be a positive aspect of his defensive play; the microcosms of man defense within the zone did not leave one thinking he was a great defender, despite the gaudy stats and physical tools.
Overall, Johnson should be a lock to be drafted in the 5-8 range. Because he’ll be turning 23 in July, and because his game is relatively polished for what he will likely be asked to do, there probably isn’t a lot of upside remaining. This limits him to being a guy who will likely be a team’s 3rd best player when they’re contending for a championship; however he will be an very good player who should contribute at a high level right away.