Draft Prospect Friday: Wes Johnson, Austin Rivers and problems with judging 3pt shooting prospects
(Couldn’t get this article up yesterday. Pretend it was posted on Friday)
One of the most disastrous draft picks in recent history is the Minnesota Timberwolves taking Wes Johnson 4th overall. Johnson did so little his first two seasons in the league, that the Timberwolves were forced to include a 1st round pick just to dump his rookie contract. He has not looked like a legitimate NBA rotation player so far.
Fascinatingly, Johnson in 2010 got picked so high because he was labelled a “safe” pick. While Demarcus Cousins had more upside, Johnson would be a sure thing – Mainly because in college, he hit open 3s, defended, rebounding and played on the fastbreak and could play SG and SF. While a likely role player, this skillset is something every team needs.
While his defense hasn’t come around, the biggest problem for Wes Johnson is how his jumpshot has disappeared. After shooting 41.5% from 3 in his final season in the NCAA, his 3P% has dropped to a mediocre 34.1% for his career in the NBA, including 31.4% his sophmore season. Without a consistent spot-up jumpshot, Wes doesn’t have a useable offensive role on a team.
There are a number of reasons why Johnson’s shot may not have translated. One is that the NCAA 3pt line is shorter than the NBA 3pt line. While you’d think a player can extend his range a few feet out in the NBA, it’s not a guarantee everyone can. Secondly, Johnson was not a 3pt shooter until fairly late in his career. He shot 29.4% from 3 his freshman year in college at Iowa St., 33.3% his sophmore year, before jumping to 41.5% his junior year after transferring to Syracuse. Because of the shorter college season, Johnson’s yearly 3pt % his junior season may have been prone to small sample size variance – going 51 for 123 from 3, whereas if he’d hit 10 3s less, going 41 for 123, he’d have had a 3p% of .333 that he had in his sophmore year. 10 3s over a season can be a matter of simply getting lucky. Third, Wes’s college FT% of .768 was decent, but not great. Another sign perhaps of worry, is the fact that while FT% remained steady throughout his college career, going from .753 his freshman year, to .779 his sophmore year, to .772 his junior season. This is worrisome because normally when a player has a huge change in shooting ability from 3 like Wes did from freshman year to junior season, they should also improve their FT stroke to prove they simply drastically changed their shooting skill level – which Wes didn’t.
The point is, there are ways to judge whether a player’s 3P% will translate, that goes beyond just looking at their NCAA scores. It’s not as simple as just saying a player like Johnson is a safe bet to translate. Judging these contextual factors could help teams avoid a similar situation in the future.
One player who’s shooting looks worrisome to me, is Austin Rivers. Although he shot .365 in college in 3P%, he only shot 65.8% from the FT line, an extremely low number for any so called 3pt threat in the NBA. His shooting form is seriously questionable (using 2 hands), and before the draft he couldn’t complete the “Ray Allen shooting drill” for the Wizards in a pre-draft workout. So far in preseason, his jump-shot has looked terrible.
Rivers desperately needs a jumpshot to make it in league. He is an undersized SG with questionable court awareness and feel for the game. He needs to be a player that can consistently rip off shots from the outside in spurts, like Jamal Crawford and JR Smith can. I suspect Rivers getting taken 10th overall was with the assumption he’d shoot in the NBA. But it’s not a guarantee just because he shot over 36% from 3 in college, as Wes Johnson proved.