2010 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Wesley Johnson

Editor's Note, by rook6980:
This is the third installment in what I expect to be a regular posting on Draft Prospects.  This series will take a look at the top draft prospects for the 2010 NBA Draft in June. The plan is to have one or two a week, leading up to a flurry of activity the week of the draft. My DVR is crammed full of College games, and I'm watching and writing as fast as I can (between Wizards games).

Just another note: These draft prospect articles are not necessarily done in any order... but rather their order is based on which College games I've had time to watch and analyze.


Draft Prospect assessments:
John Wall
Evan Turner
DeMarcus Cousins    Upcoming
Derrick Favors        Upcoming
Al-Farouq Aminu        Upcoming
Cole Aldrich        Upcoming


Why did I pick Wesley Johnson for my third installment?  To be honest, I had already watched three Syracuse gamesand I had the notes ready before anyone else on the list.  But having said that, Wesley Johnson's stock has been skyrocketing since he blew up against North Carolina for 25 points and eight rebounds, helping the Orange to a 87-71 victory.  He was unarguably the best player on the floor that night.  Then, two games later, Johnson had his career high 26 points against Columbia and in December went off on Seton Hall for 20 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks (including two spectacular blocks right at the rim).  During that span of games, Johnson did everything.  He hit threes, ran the floor, scored inside, scored outside, rebounded and blocked shots.  He was everywhere.

So, it's not inconceivable that he could be taken anywhere from the third pick through the 10th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.  I think Wesley Johnson is a better SF prospect than Al-Farouq Aminu from Wake Forest.  I suspect, however, that some GM will take Aminu's high upside (but raw actual game) over Johnson's more refined game, and Johnson will go somewhere in the mid-lottery (5-10).

Johnson was not even on the radar last year.  He played his freshman and sophomore seasons for the Iowa State Cyclones in the Big 12.  While he was putting up decent numbers (12 ppg, 6-7 rpg), his production slipped in his sophomore year.  It's always tough making the decision to transfer schools.  While it's not quite clear why he decided to transfer to Syracuse, rumor has it that he had disagreements with the coaching staff at ISU.  In an interview with Donna Ditota with the Syracuse Post-Standard he commented as to why he transferred.

"The relationship wasn’t there my sophomore year. We came to agreements and disagreements a lot, but I think our relationship wasn’t there like I thought it was my freshman year," said Johnson.

Because of NCAA rules, Johnson had to sit out a year; but he is looking like a genius after the year he's had at Syracuse.  Ultimately, that decision probably earned him a top 10 draft position and a multi-million dollar guaranteed NBA rookie contract.

In early February, he suffered a couple injuries from hard falls.  One was a bruised hip, and the other a bruised hand when he was undercut on an alley oop in a game against Providence.  The hand injury slowed him somewhat for a while because it swelled and made it difficult for him to catch the ball, but those injuries have healed and he's back to putting up solid scoring and rebounding numbers.

Johnson fits the ideal of a classic athletic small forward.  From a purely physical standpoint, he has excellent size, length and athleticism.  He's 6'7, and has a huge wingspan (something over 7-ft  - I'll be very interested in the NBA Pre-Draft Camp Measurements this summer to see how much over 7-feet it is).  An explosive leaper, he can get his shot off over anyone.  He runs the floor well and finishes on the break with authority.  He reminds me of a younger Rashard Lewis, when Lewis first entered the League as an athletic small forward who could stretch the floor and help on the boards.  Johnson may have more range than Lewis did when he first came into the League.

Although Johnson is a good shooter with good range, he isn’t necessarily a shot creator.  He does seem to defer to his teammates, trying to find them in their sweet spots while scoring his points in the flow of the Syracuse offense.  He rarely takes a bad shot, and as a result is an extremely efficient scorer.  He's got a nice jump shot, with good form and a quick release.  He has NBA three-point range.  His mid-range game is pretty refined, but he rarely goes inside and he shies away from contact.  However, he's great at finishing on the alley-oop and in transition and he's got very good fundamental footwork, so I think he can eventually add some strength and play inside more.

 

He has some advanced moves (cross over, spin moves, hesitation, etc.) but if his opponent defends his first move, he has no counter moves, and that sometimes gets him in trouble.  He's good on both pull up jumpers and catch-and shoot situations.  His ball handling is only average, so that is something he will need to work on in earnest, as wing players in the NBA are expected to have good ball handling skills.  He has a nice jab-step, and that skill combined with his quick first step and quick release pretty much assures that he can get his shot off against just about anyone.  He has that quick first step, so if his opponent plays him too closely he can go around them and make his way into the lane, but he really prefers to pull up rather than go strong to the rack.  He appears to have worked hard on his footwork and has some impressive spin moves.

He's an extremely unselfish player; so if he has no shot, the ball immediately leaves his hands.  He has good vision and is a good passer, averaging almost three assists per game. He moves well without the ball, getting himself open off back screens and cuts.  He's a low risk player and doesn't turn the ball over much.

Sometimes Johnson relies too much on his jump shot, and is hesitant to go to the rim - attempting only four Free Throws per game.  He has trouble creating off the dribble, so most of his opportunities come after one dribble, in a catch-and-shoot situation or in transition.  

Defensively, Syracuse plays a 2-3 zone, so I've never really seen Johnson play man-on-man defense.  Jim Boeheim frequently plays him at the power forward spot.  He has been very effective at PF for Syracuse, but may be over-matched in the NBA, so I expect him to play small forward at the next level.  He has become a terrific rebounder for a guy his size, averaging 10.0 rebounds per 40 minutes.  What makes him such a good rebounder is that he uses fundamentals (finding his man, setting a solid base, boxing out) instead of relying on his athleticism.  Another fact that has NBA General Managers drooling: he's one of only a few College players to averages over two blocks and two steals per game (per 40 minutes).  Rebounds, blocks and steals are skills that generally transfer well to the NBA game.  Although it's hard to gauge his one-on-one defensive ability, he has the size, awareness, intensity, long wingspan, leaping ability and quickness to develop into a good NBA defender.

He moves quickly from the weak-side to ball-side and uses those long arms and high leaping abilities to block an average of two shots per game while contesting many more.  Since Syracuse plays mostly zone, Johnson may have difficulties in the NBA defending the pick and roll.

STRENGTHS:
Shot-selection
Versatility
Ability to contest shots
Defensive potential
Versatility to defend multiple positions
Strong Intangibles
Unselfishness
High-level productivity
Athleticism
Size for position
Wingspan
Rebounding ability
3-point shooting percentages
Ability to create separation from defender
Quick release

WEAKNESSES:
Cannot create his own shot
Needs to improve his ball-handling
Ability to get to free throw line
Age - Limited upside?
Needs to get stronger
Does not play inside

Wesley Johnson took an extra year of prep school and then he sat out a year when he transferred to Syracuse, making him essentially a fifth-year Junior.  Since he turns 23 this July, his upside may not be quite as high as other combo forwards in this draft (like Al-Farouq Aminu for example, who is three years younger).  On the flip side, he’ll be coming into the NBA ready to help the team that drafts him immediately, and there is a lot to be said for that.  He could become an impact player if he can eventually switch to SG and defend perimeter players.  

At the end of the day, he's a safe pick worth taking in the top 10.
 
UPDATE: Wes Johnson was selected 2009-10 BIG EAST Conference Player of the Year.
UPDATE: Johnson had a terrific game against Georgetown on Thursday in the Big East tournament, scoring 24 points with 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks; but Syracuse lost 91-84.

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