Could this be the year Wesley Johnson finally realizes his potential and has a breakout season? Kobe Bryant and Byron Scott certainly think so.
Johnson was selected with the fourth overall pick in 2010, though the 27-year-old has bounced around the league over the past few years since then and has struggled to find a long-term home. While Johnson had career-highs in points (9.1), rebounds (4.4), blocks (1.0) and steals (1.1) last season, many feel that the Syracuse product has only scratched the surface, especially on the defensive end.
Unlike Mike D’Antoni, Scott has been preaching defense from the get-go this season, and the team’s new head coach thinks Johnson can become one of the best defenders in the league.
“I expect a lot from Wesley Johnson,” Scott said. “He’s been looking great in training camp. Running up and down the floor [and] defending, which is something I think he can be one of the best in the league at doing, and he’s been making his shots.”
When the Lakers first signed Johnson last summer, Mitch Kupchak did so with the idea of developing the former lottery pick into a Trevor Ariza or Michael Cooper type of player. While Johnson showed flashes on defense last season, he had trouble being consistent. Scott will be hoping that the emphasis he puts on defense will lead to Johnson having a breakout year on that end of the floor.
However, Scott isn’t the only one with high expectations for Johnson.
The Black Mamba spent the whole summer working out with the 6’7″ forward – “Every morning at 7:30 [am] he was there,” Bryant said – and the five-time NBA champion expects big things from the Texas native this season.
“He looks phenomenal. He looks incredible,” Bryant said. “He can run all day, he’s defending with a passion. He’s covering lanes, he’s shooting the gaps defensively, he’s playing post defense, perimeter defense. He’s doing it all.”
Like Scott, Bryant thinks Johnson can be exceptional on the defensive end of the floor.
“His greatest strength is defensively,” Bryant said, “and I think in this culture where defense is priority number one, he’ll flourish.”
The Lakers, who were 29th in opponent points allowed last season, will be hoping that Johnson will be just one of the players on the roster to make a big jump defensively this season.
Johnson will get his first crack at establishing a name for himself on the defensive end on Monday when the Lakers open their preseason schedule against the Denver Nuggets in San Diego. Johnson is expected to start the game at the small forward, his preferred position compared to the power forward spot he was mostly used at last season by D’Antoni.