After signing Chris Kaman, Nick Young, and working on a buyout to get Jordan Farmar on board, the Lakers have made another move in free agency. From Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times:
Lakers agreed to terms with SG Wesley Johnson…1-yr deal for vet's min of $1 mill. Was 4th pick in 2010 draft, played last season for PHX.
— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) July 14, 2013
From the opening of free agency, Johnson has been a player of interest and someone I thought could make sense for the Lakers as a value signing:
If you’re looking for a wing player who fits into the mold of the type of guy the Lakers should take a risk on, Johnson is your guy. He checks off the desirable boxes of youth, athleticism (though he’s not an elite athlete), and good size for his position. Johnson was also a former lottery pick who flashed talent, but never found a way to put it all together in Minnesota or in Phoenix. As far as his game, Johnson has always been seen as a player who would impact the game offensively, but I see most of his upside coming on the other side of the floor. He has good length and can slide his feet well enough and that translates to being able to guard either wing position fairly well. Last season in Phoenix he held opposing SF’s to a PER of 12.4 and SG’s to a PER of 14.5, numbers that show a certain amount of defensive ability. His problem has been that he hasn’t been able to do enough offensively to stay on the floor and considering that’s his pedigree, he’s largely been a disappointment. However, if he can remake himself into a solid “3 and D” player (he only shot 32.3% on threes last season, but did shoot 35.6% his rookie year), he can have value in this league.
Johnson is by no means a difference maker and should not be viewed as some savior heading into next season. The Lakers will be his 3rd team since being drafted #4 overall in the 2010 draft and the fact that he’s been given up on twice this early in his career doesn’t inspire confidence. When you add the fact that Johnson is already 26 years old (for comparison’s sake, Kevin Durant is 24), we may be looking at a player who doesn’t have much “upside” left. Or at least the type you’d hope for when talking about a player drafted as high as he was so recently.
That said, 26 is by no means ancient and the NBA has a habit of giving up on young players too early in their careers. Sometimes it takes some failure and a guy refitting his game to a new role under different expectations to really find his niche. The hope is that Johnson can follow that path rather than simply being another on a long list of lottery flameouts.
Even if Johnson doesn’t pan out, however, he’s well worth the risk at this price and playing in the role he’ll likely be asked to fill. As a bench player who will likely be sharing the floor with at least one (and likely two) of Kobe, Steve Nash, and Pau at all times, he can work as a slasher and spot up shooter on offense. As a wing working on the weak side, he should see plenty of late rotations to him when he’s spotting up and if he can work well off the ball, he should be able to sneak in for easy shots around the basket as the defense rotates away from him.
And, as noted in the excerpt above, I think he has very good potential as a defensive wing where he offers above average physical attributes. He can guard either shooting guards or small forwards and can also help down in the paint when needed. He’s also a capable defensive rebounder who can slide down and get on the glass when big men rotate.
Ultimately, this is a very good signing for the Lakers as they continue to add depth at reasonable prices. Johnson has some ability and with a reduced role where he can play off superior teammates, he may just find a place in this league. And, if he doesn’t, it’s a small financial commitment. Sounds like a win-win situation for both sides.