To say Wesley Johnson hasn't heeded the hype of his lottery billing would be an understatement.
Indeed, career averages of 9.4 points and 4.5 rebounds on 46 percent shooting aren't exactly what's expected when you're taken with the No. 4 overall pick in the NBA draft, as Johnson was in 2010.
But free the weight of expectations that accompanied him throughout his first three years—first with the Minnesota Timberwolves, then with the Phoenix Suns—and Johnson has managed to carve out a nice little niche with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In fact, Johnson’s hoping to bask a while longer in just-so warmth of L.A.’s typically searing spotlight. "I want to come back," Johnson told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, via the Long Beach Press Telegram. "Hopefully they feel the same way. I’ll have to continue to prove myself and show I can play hard."
For his part, head coach Mike D’Antoni admitted that, while Johnson has endured his fair share of ups and downs, he’s showed his skipper—the architect of Seven Seconds or Less—a thing or two of late. "Early, he was up and down," D’Antoni said of Johnson, per Medina. "He’d play some great games and he’d go AWOL for about a month. Lately, it’s been very good."
For a coach who values versatility like few others, Johnson’s shape-shifting role has been a pleasant surprise at times. From Medina:
Both Johnson and D’Antoni also sounded enthusiastic about his new role. In the past week, the 6-foot-7, 215 pound Johnson has guarded strong Pacers power forward David West, bulky 7-foot-1 Memphis center Marc Gasol and versatile Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
Johnson initially signed with the Lakers for one year at just under $1 million last July.
Assuming he can maintain this year’s productivity—he’s seen a significant uptick in true-shooting percentage, up from 49 percent a year ago to 55 percent this season, according to Basketball-Reference.com—Johnson is a no-brainer for the always cap-clogged Lakers, particularly at something approximating his current price tag.
D'Antoni's system is famous for getting the most out of otherwise middling talent, and Johnson—who was a lottery pick for a reason—could be the perfect candidate going forward.
Even with a healthy (and aging) Kobe Bryant back in the mix, the makeup of the Lakers could take any number of shapes over the next few years, meaning that a multifaceted player like Johnson is bound to maintain his value.
He might never be the player the Timberwolves were hoping for, but cobbling together a productive career in one of the world's foremost cities sure isn't a bad consolation prize.
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