When the Syracuse Orange lost Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris last year, many wondered who would be the one to fill the scoring & leadership gap left by a lottery pick.
A lot was expected of Wesley Johnson, but hardly anyone could have anticipated the impact that would come from the Iowa State transfer.
He exploded into the college basketball world, averaging 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.8 blocks, and 1.7 steals, all while shooting over 50% from the field, 41.5% from the three-point line, and leading the ‘Cuse to a 30-5 record and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
While it’s doubtful that anyone expects Johnson to be a dominant, top option on a championship team at the professional level, there is definitely reason to believe that he could be the perfect complement to a current star, a la a Pippen to someone’s Jordan.
NBA Position: SF
Weight: 210 lbs.
If you watched a Syracuse game last year, didn’t it seem like Johnson was more like 6’9” than he was 6’7”? He was an extremely difficult cover and the high release on his jumper made it that much more difficult for the opposing side.
Against weaker competition, Johnson thrived. He was too big for smaller defenders; he has a high arc on his jump shot that makes it very difficult to defend. But when put up against taller, more physical defenders, he uses a potent first-step off the dribble to attack the basket, where he is a skilled finisher.
One of his biggest strengths is his ability to move without the ball. He uses screens very well, and doesn’t need much space to get off his shot. If you crowd him too much, he can go back-door where, as discussed earlier, he is a strong leaper and crafty finisher near the rim.
Coming from Syracuse, he is a disciplined, well-coached player that understands more than the simple X’s & O’s of the game; he knows the subtle intricacies of the defense, how and when to attack and be aggressive, and is extremely unselfish, almost to a fault.
When he gets in the lane, he is an effective rebounder. From that, he’s adept at pushing the ball in transition or running the floor. He’s can fill the lanes nicely, and his three-point shot is seemingly at its best when he gets clean looks in the open court.
One of the biggest question marks surrounding Johnson’s game is his killer instinct. Can he become an assassin that masterfully walks the line of deferring to teammates and taking games over himself?
In the final minutes of Syracuse’s tournament loss to Butler, Johnson didn’t attempt one field goal. Part of that was because of rushed shots by Scoop Jardine and Andy Rautins; at the same time, if those two were playing with someone like Carmelo Anthony, could you imagine them jacking up shots without getting the ball to ‘Melo first?
Off the dribble, he’s not particularly strong. Most of his scoring opportunities come off of the jab step or a quick, one-dribble move. He needs to learn how to create scoring chances other than off catch-and-shoot situations. Finally, he must be more of a playmaker at the NBA level; otherwise teams will prey on his weaknesses and turn him strictly into a jump shooter.
On the defensive end, there are questions about his one-on-one prowess. At the ‘Cuse, he played a 2-3 zone all season, and since he sat out a year due to the transfer rules, it’s been nearly two years since he’s played actual man-to-man defense.
His length, athleticism, and size suggest that he’ll be able to adjust. At the same time, he is a tad underweight, so he could be in for a rude awakening when trying to guard the likes of Paul Pierce, Jason Richardson, Kevin Durant, or LeBron James.
NBA Comparison: Gerald Wallace
Draft Projection: High Lottery/Top Five