Wes Johnson - the Timberwolves in a nutshell

As Wes goes, so goes the Wolves?

I originally started this post because of some things I found about Wes that I wanted to share, but as it developed I found a different narrative that was more compelling, that of Wes Johnson as a microcosm of this team.

Last year Wes had a pretty bad rookie season. His PER was barely above 10. His WS/48 was abysmal. He shot pretty bad from behind the arc, negating what should have been a strength. He couldn't get to the line. This, from a guy who was the #4 pick in the draft. Oh, to be a Wolves fan, right?

In going back and watching some of Kurt's comments about Wes, he talked a good game about how to use and develop Wes, but the proof in the pudding was that he was content to let Wes develop into a Rick Fox type player. Not exactly a great return on the team's investment.

What a difference a coach makes.

Like I said, I went back and watched some Rambis clips where he talks about Wes, and to his credit Rambis mentions many of the same things Adelman does (at least topically - getting to the rim, getting Wes more comfortable with being aggressive, etc). The onus is clearly on Wes to produce this year - so why should we reasonably expect any difference?

The reasonable answer is simple: Coach Adelman.

One thing that really struck me about Rambis is how he never got into specifics about anything when answering questions.

Practice Report: Kurt Rambis (via MNwolves)

Now maybe that's just the way he is, but the vibe between him and Adelman is completely different. Rambis seems perpetually annoyed and wary about engaging with other people - aloof might be another good word. When asked specific questions about player development or issues he always talked about guys developing better defensive awareness or needing to understand the way things are done here or becoming more aggressive offensively or needing to learn when to pass and when to shoot. In other words, Rambis continually maintained that our guys should get better at stuff across the board without specifically mentioning how they should do that.

I wonder if this is why our team ended up looking so poor last year. Weird substitutions, weird player minute splits (Hollins over Love?!!!), deciding that the best way to develop/use Jonny Flynn is to make him do what he's worst at? Recognizing that a player needs to improve in specific areas and being able to give them specific coaching on how to do that are two very, very different things. It's becoming clearer and clearer with each passing day (at least from my persective) that Rambis may be a guy who understands X's and O's quite well but simply does not have what I would call the coaching gene in his body. If you can't connect with and constructively offer specific guidance to your players about what you want, then what good is your knowledge about the game?

Enter Rick Adelman.

Consider this quote from Wes:

Johnson said Adelman and his coaching staff had complete statistical breakdowns for each player as well as the entire team, directly pointing out just how poor the Wolves were a season ago when they finished with the worst record in the NBA.

"I think we needed that," Johnson said. "We didn't need to be patted on the back too much. We needed all the tough love we can get."

Rick Adelman has made a career out of getting the most out of his players. It's too soon to know if the proof will be in the pudding, but I get the strong sense that he's not going to direct Wes to attempt 42% of his overall shots from behind the arc this year.

Training Camp Day 5: Rick Adelman (via MNwolves)

Training Camp Day 5: 1-on-1 with Wes Johnson (via MNwolves)

This is exactly what should be expected from Wes, and given the luxury of Rubio and Barea, this is about as ideal of a situation that Wes will get in his career to prove that he is the Syracuse guy and not what we saw last year.

Kinda like Randolph, but for other reasons, Wes needs others to create for him. His ball handling skills don't need to be a weakness if he can use his athleticism to capitalize on cuts to the basket where he can receive timely passes from Rubio (or Barea or Love). Wes needs to play inside and out, pop around, do a little of this and a little of that. He needs to be the new janitor of this team, cleaning up whatever's left around him.

Draft Preview: Wes Johnson (via foxsports)

Consider this comment from HoopsAnalyst, talking about the difference in Wes as a prospect at Iowa State versus Syracuse:

Johnson spent two seasons at Iowa State, before transferring to Syracuse. Because he sat out a season in between, he’s the age of most college seniors. He wasn’t much of a prospect at Iowa State and that could have been because he just wasn’t utilized properly. His sophomore season there, almost half his shots came from beyond the arc. At Syracuse he was the main guy in the offense and his numbers took off.

48.6% of his shot attempts at Iowa State were three's. At Syracuse that number dropped to 29.6%. You go through and start looking at the numbers and it becomes clearer and clearer that the guy we saw last year was the prospect from Iowa State, not the player from Syracuse. If Wes plays in that role his value and efficiency will greatly increase: decreasing his threes will improve his percentages (he should be taking better shots from three); getting to the rim more should simultaneously improve his percentages overall (dunking is a high percentage shot) and improve his free throw rate (never a bad thing).

I don't think he'll ever be a high usage guy, but efficient offensive production combined with quality defensive ability would be terrific. He and Rubio clearly offer and nice defensive backcourt, and Wes' weakside shot blocking could go a long ways towards offsetting the lack of height from our forwards. Again, let him play here and there, do a little of this and that. Maybe a super glue guy, a (hopefully) high efficiency/low usage guy at #4 overall is a bad return on investment. But there is value in Wes, and as he goes so will the Wolves, thanks to Rick Adelman.

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