Thursday, February 4, 2010

Prospect Profile: Wesley Johnson

Wesley Johnson (6-7/205; Small forward; Junior; Syracuse University)

Numbers to Date: 16.7 points 9 rebounds 1.8 blocks 1.7 steals 54.5% FG
NBA Comparison: Rudy Gay
Age on Draft Day: 23
Potential Pick Range: 2 - 9
Good Fits: Nets, Timberwolves, Warriors

The Player: After winning Big 12 Rookie of the Year at Iowa State, Johnson regressed somewhat in his sophomore campaign and decided to depart Ames, Iowa for Syracuse, New York, where he was forced to sit out a year before making his debut for the Orange. Only the fifth transfer accepted by Jim Boeheim in the Hall of Famer's 33-year tenure as head coach, Johnson has proven to be more that just a neat addition to a talented team: He has morphed into one of the most consistently dominant and versatile players in the nation, destined to garner a handful of accolades before he inevitably enters the draft. In leading the Syracuse to its best start in school history, Johnson looks to become the first player since Shane Battier to average 15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals, while shooting 50% from the field. While Wes is certainly a tremendous athlete and a dependable shooter, his enviable versatility is his calling card.

Strengths: Inarguably the best athlete in the college game...Routinely converts impossible alley-oops, skies above the rim for rebounds, and swats shots like a mad man...Superhuman leaping ability...Dead-eye shooter with a gorgeous jump shot...Loves to face up defenders at the top of the key and pop a quick, smooth J...Shooting 42.5% from range on the year...Unselfish to a fault...Understands what it takes to win as thoroughly as any player in the country...Perhaps the best rebounder in the nation at the small forward position, posting 10 double-doubles by the end of January...A dynamite defender, averaging nearly 2 blocks and 2 steals per game...His playing style is tailored for the NBA, as evidenced by three distinct characteristics of his game: His confidence in shooting contested jumpers from at least 18 feet out, his defensive tenacity, and killer instinct...Has a great attitude on and off the court, frequently flashing a huge smile when the Orange are on a roll, and sending Facebook messages to Syracuse students reminding them to come out to games and wear orange...Exceptional length and bounce allow him to clog passing lines and alter shots like a big man...Prototypical size for the SF position.

Weaknesses: Gripes with Wesley's game generally start and end with his complacency - in that he doesn't score 20 points night in and night out - but his supposedly inadequate production on the offensive end can be explained by the Syracuse system, the Orange's wealth of weapons (six players averaging at least 9 points per game), and the fact that on this team, there's always a better shot to be taken (Syracuse leads the nation in field goal percentage)...Not a great ball handler, especially for a swingman...Must become more comfortable taking defenders of the dribble, a la Evan Turner...A very good passer, but still averages more turnovers than assists...While he can create his own shot off the dribble with ease, he relies too heavily on others to set him up and get him going on offense...His slight frame and reckless play around the basket have some questioning his durability...Despite his athleticism and rapid development, his age (23) has understandably raised concerns about his potential.

Bottom Line: Still a contender for the Naismith Award, Johnson has the Orange, who were picked to finish sixth in the Big East, contending for a national title. Some of Johnson's critics are convinced that his age will scare away a number of ball clubs pining for the next superstar, but more will covet him for his potential to contribute from day one. He might not have Wall's upside, but he might have the most impact of any rookie next season. Teams that consider themselves a competent, versatile starter away from really competing might not want to wait on the likes of Derrick Favors or Donatas Motlejunas, seeing Johnson as a desired free agent who can be had for a very small price. If his impact on Syracuse is any indication, whichever franchise scoops him up on draft day might find themselves playing at a level they never imagined they might have achieved before Wesley and his thousand-watt smile came to town.

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