Is Wesley Johnson an Asset or a Liability to the Phoenix Suns?

Sam CooperCorrespondent IIIMarch 3, 2013

NEW YORK - JUNE 24:  Wesley Johnson stands with NBA Commisioner David Stern after being drafted by The Minnesota Timberwolves at Madison Square Garden on June 24, 2010 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

When Wesley Johnson was traded to the Phoenix Suns from the Minnesota Timberwolves this past offseason, nobody expected much of him on the court.

That trade was never about Johnson. It was about getting a future first-round pick, and also being able to dump Hakim Warrick and Robin Lopez at the same time.

And for a while, Johnson looked like another failed experiment. Just another lottery bust who would never amount to anything other than being a cheerleader at the end of the bench. 

That was easy to believe, for sure. Alvin Gentry never had much confidence in Johnson, and through the first three months of the season, Johnson played in just 18 games. When he did play, it would usually only be in a blowout win, and Johnson, Zeller, Marshall and Garrett could have a few minutes each at the end of the fourth quarter.

But now, under the guidance of new head coach Lindsey Hunter, the forward known for his bright smile finally has something to smile about.

The second half of the season is all about player development. Lindsey Hunter is giving the young players more playing time, and Johnson is not letting him down.

Since the All-Star break, Johnson has appeared in seven games. During that span, he has been given 22 minutes of play per game, and he's averaging 8.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in that time. Johnson is also shooting 44 percent from the field since the All-Star break, and he has connected on eight of his 19 attempts from behind the arc. 

Those may not seem like spectacular numbers, but Johnson shot just 31 percent from the field before All-Star weekend, and he has never been known for his three-point shooting.

Perhaps the most important thing to note is that when Johnson contributes, the Suns win. On February 19, the Suns defeated the Portland Trail Blazers while Johnson put up 14 points and eight rebounds.

And during the team's current three-game winning streak, he has been even better. Johnson had 14 points, nine rebounds and two steals in 35 minutes for a win against the Timberwolves. In the following game against the San Antonio Spurs, Johnson shot just 3-of-9 from the field for eight points, but he also made a ridiculously clutch contested shot at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.

And against the Atlanta Hawks, his great play continued. Johnson played 30 minutes, and he contributed 15 points and six rebounds while also knocking down three three-pointers.

Perhaps this is just a hot streak, but Johnson has been playing with so much more confidence in his last several games. He is calm and composed, and his three-point shot cannot be stopped. At the same time, he has the athleticism to rebound much better than his opponents, and he can be one of the better defenders the team has to offer.

Really, this is what player development is all about. Wesley Johnson would not have been drafted fourth overall in 2010 if he didn't have talent. He is an extremely talented player, just like teammate Michael Beasley. Hunter's job is to give him confidence and bring out the best in him. It hasn't worked so well with Beasley, but Johnson is now flourishing in this new setting.

If you asked me a month ago, I would have said that there is about a zero percent chance that the Suns would attempt to re-sign Johnson for next season. The $4.3 million he's getting this year appeared to be way too much, and the team already has several other shooting guards and small forwards.

But now, re-signing Johnson appears to be the smartest thing the Suns can possibly do. Unlike Shannon Brown or Michael Beasley, Johnson can defend, and he seems to be a better decision maker than either of those two. He won't take as many awful shots, and he hasn't gotten this reaction from Lindsey Hunter. 

Michael Beasley, on the other hand, is a perfect example of someone who shows that you can't always milk talent out of a lottery pick. Sometimes, a bust is just a bust, and rebuilding teams will face this problem again and again.

But Johnson exemplifies all that this new youth movement is about. Display confidence in your young players, and give them time, and eventually they might just come along and become a major contributor to the team's success.