Analyzing Wesley Johnson’s 3-and-D potential with Clippers


Feb 6, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Wesley Johnson (11) reacts after making a basket against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 103-97. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Wesley Johnson is one of the less talked about players to join the Los Angeles Clippers this summer, yet in a role as a 3-and-D guy off the bench, he has the potential to make a difference. He won’t play the minutes of Lance Stephenson or Paul Pierce, but in a possible 10-13 minutes per game, he’s essentially been signed as a younger, more athletic version of Matt Barnes. Who was, in essence, a typical 3-and-D player (just with a lot of attitude). Which, if you don’t know, is a wing player who’s job is to basically just shoot threes and defend.

Johnson lacks the same kind of gritty, aggressive style that Barnes has, although that’s not what the Clippers need from him. Especially with the arrival of a physical player like Stephenson. And after a season of struggling with the woes of the Los Angeles Lakers, Johnson must be incredibly excited to play for the other team in Staples Center.

In fact, for the first time in his five year career, he’ll be playing on a winning team. And without too much pressure of needing to fulfil a big role, Johnson can help the Clippers add even more three point firepower and even more athleticism.

At 6’7″ with a 37 inch vertical, Johnson’s size and athleticism can provide Lob City with yet another highlight dunker. It’ll be entertainment from day one when we get to see him tear away on fast breaks with the likes of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but that’s just the beginning of his potential.

As when you add on Johnson’s ridiculous 7’1″ wingspan and 8’10” standing reach, there’s no denying that he’s a prominent physical specimen. Whether he’s flying through the air for a dunk, or using his quickness and length to break up passing lanes on defense.

When looking at the numbers behind Johnson’s man defense from last season, though, the shooting percentages of his opponents aren’t that encouraging for Clippers fans.

Within 10 feet of the basket, players shot 6.4 percent better than normal when defended by Johnson. When moving closer to the perimeter, Johnson still failed to hold opponents below their season average, as players made 2.8 percent more of their shots from more than 16 feet out. Overall, Johnson’s defensive assignments shot 2.9 percent better than normal (stats per Player Tracking). It’s hardly a massive difference, but nevertheless, it’s a positive difference for other teams.

However, not all the blame can be aimed at Johnson. The Lakers’s defense was simply disastrous last season, as they ranked an embarrassing 29th in defensive efficiency. They also ranked just 23rd in steals and 21st in blocks per game, essentially summarizing their lack of presence at both the perimeter and the rim.

With the Clippers, however, who ranked a far more respectable 15th in defensive efficiency, Johnson may be able to reach his potential. As with Chris Paul to work beside and learn from on the perimeter, and DeAndre Jordan to serve as an elite safety blanket behind him in the paint, Johnson should be able to see some improvement.

Apr 10, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Wesley Johnson (11) shoots against Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

As a three point shooter, Johnson has been slightly more effective than Matt Barnes over his career, making 34.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc in comparison to Barnes’ 33.8 percent. Last season, the ex-Lakers’ wing made 1.2 threes per game at a 35.1 percent rate. It’s not incredible, but seeing as he probably won’t be playing more than around 10 minutes a game, Johnson won’t have to do too much.

On top of that, he was also a highly effective catch and shoot player last season, making 38.7 percent of his catch and shoot threes. So, after having to almost solely rely on Jordan Clarkson to create opportunities for him with the Lakers, Johnson should be able to flourish with the Clippers’ premier playmakers such as Paul and Griffin, or even Stephenson at times.

More from Clipperholics

Ultimately, Wesley Johnson will serve the Clippers as a complimentary piece to their other new wing players such as Pierce and Stephenson. The latter two will be the ones playing 20+ minutes a game, whilst Johnson can play in shorter bursts of the bench, to provide some athleticism in transition, some added length over the likes of Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford, and some catch and shoot threes if need be.

The best part of Johnson joining the Clippers, though, is that he doesn’t need to do more than that. Bringing some defensive energy, depth, and the occasional dunk or three pointer is all Doc Rivers will ask of him. With Pierce stepping in as the likely starter to replace Barnes, there’s no pressure on Johnson to play 29.5 minutes a night like he did with the Lakers last season.

Meaning that in a moderate role with far superior talent around him, we might be able to see Wesley Johnson reach his potential at both ends of the floor as he begins his career with the Clippers.

Next: Blake Griffin's best plays of the 2015 NBA playoffs