Wesley Johnson Adds Depth, Could Flourish

Rowan Kavner

LOS ANGELES – Free agent forward Wesley Johnson will stay in Los Angeles, but he won’t be playing for the Lakers for a third straight season.

The 6-7 small forward has officially signed with the Clippers, adding depth to a position in need following Matt Barnes’ departure in the trade for Lance Stephenson.

Five years ago, Johnson was the fourth overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft out of Syracuse. Johnson, who’s played for the Timberwolves, Suns and, most recently, the Lakers, started 59 of his 76 games last year. For his career, he’s started 269 of his 349 games played.

With the Clippers, he has a chance to start once again. If he doesn’t, he should still see significant playing time as a key cog off a bench that’s beginning to round into form. Johnson’s coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high 29.5 minutes per game.

He’ll still be playing at STAPLES Center, but now for a Clippers team that should possess the most talent he’s ever had around him. Johnson’s never played for a team with a winning record. Meanwhile, the Clippers haven’t had a losing record in five years. That could help bring out the best in the 27-year-old, who dazzled at Syracuse, where he was named the Big East Player of the Year in 2010.

Johnson’s averaged 8.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for his career. Last year, Johnson averaged a career-high 9.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. He’s never averaged fewer than six points or fewer than 2.5 rebounds per game in a season.

Johnson’s a career 40.9 percent shooter, but just two seasons ago he shot 42.5 percent for the Lakers. In that same season, he shot 36.9 percent from 3-point range, 2.2 percent better than his career average.

The Clippers hope to see numbers closer to that while reaping the benefits of his length and athleticism defensively. If they can get Johnson in more open catch-and-shoot situations with the ball, which typically happens for small forwards who play with Chris Paul, they should be able to make that happen.

Johnson shot 35.1 percent from 3-point range last season, but that number increased to 38.7 percent in catch-and-shoot situations. He also shot 38.2 percent from 3-point range when he didn’t take any dribbles, and he hit 42.5 percent of his wide-open 3-point shots. When it came to close range, he shot 63 percent on shots from fewer than 10 feet out.

While Johnson was streaky at times last year, he’s made significant impacts on games, as the Clippers know well. Johnson scored a combined 31 points in his final two games against the Clippers last season, going a combined 5-of-8 from 3-point range. In his final month of the season, Johnson averaged 11.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.