Patrick Reusse: Wolves look for Wes Johnson to grow in role

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 10, 2011 - 11:37 PM

The arrival of Derrick Williams means Wes Johnson will remain at shooting guard and must broaden his skill set and be more consistent.

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Wes Johnson, right, sneaked into an interview with Luke Ridnour (13) during the Timberwolves media day.

Photo: Courtney Perry, Star Tribune

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The Gophers' Rodney Williams and the Timberwolves' Wes Johnson are both gifted athletes. They wound up at shooting guard last season and looked out of place for the most part.

Williams was there because of a season-ending injury to Al Nolen Jr. that caused desperate shuffling for coach Tubby Smith. Johnson was there as the best place for the fourth overall draft choice to get big minutes.

This year's season-ending injury of big impact -- to Trevor Mbakwe -- has sent Williams to power forward. And the junior, now that he's operating closer to the basket, looks fully comfortable for the first time as a college player.

There was a feeling after last season that Johnson might be more productive if he were to get more time at small forward and less at the off-guard spot. That idea ended June 23 when the Wolves used their highest choice ever in the draft, No. 2 overall, to select Derrick Williams from Arizona.

Williams is a small forward. So is Michael Beasley. Which means the 6-7 Johnson might find himself there if coach Rick Adelman decides to go with a small lineup occasionally in matchup situations, but there's no doubt where the Wolves need Johnson to become more versatile and consistent.

"It's me at shooting guard ... me and Wayne Ellington," Johnson said. "I'm going to get a lot of reps in this offense in the next two weeks. It will be a chance to show the coaches I can do more than shoot off screens."

The Wolves had a first practice with new coach Rick Adelman and his staff on Friday evening. By then, it had been announced that veteran Martell Webster had undergone another surgery on his back, reducing the options at the off guard.

Johnson started 66 games and averaged 26 minutes as a rookie. Wayne Ellington started eight games and averaged 19 minutes in his second NBA season. That's the off-guard depth chart for now.

A year ago, it seemed as if Johnson couldn't take the ball into traffic without losing the handle. The response of Kurt Rambis and his staff was to have Johnson move off a screen and fire away. He took 682 shots, and 289 were threes.

Asked about Johnson, Adelman said: "He can't be one-dimensional. He has to get to the point that he's not just a jump shooter. He has to score off cuts. He has to be able to make solid plays."

Johnson didn't argue with this assessment.

"What I was doing in the offense last season was one-dimensional," he said. "There wasn't a lot of call for me to make reads, to make cuts. Get a screen and shoot. That was just the offense."

Johnson wasn't trying to come off as blameless when he said this. He understood that taking the ball inside against NBA defenses was a serious issue. That's why ball-handling was stressed as he worked out during the lockout, first in Los Angeles, then at Syracuse.

Johnson played two seasons at Iowa State, sat out a year as a transfer to Syracuse, and then was a one-season star for the Orange in 2009-10.

"I went to the basket much more at Syracuse that you saw last season," Johnson said. "I think I can get past people. There's going to be much more movement with the players in this offense. That's going to be good for me ... for all of us.''

Johnson has talked to several players in recent weeks who Adelman coached during his two previous decades in the NBA.

"What I kept hearing from them was, 'There's no one I would rather play for than him,'" Johnson said. "Already, it feels good around here. The whole mindset with the players seems different."

Johnson was asked about another veteran coach: Jim Boeheim at Syracuse.

The scandal surrounding long-time assistant Bernie Fine, with the allegation of sexual abuse of minors, has shocked everyone at Syracuse -- particularly Boeheim.

"The players are doing fine," Johnson said. "Coach Boeheim has dealt with the media, and the team has been able to concentrate on basketball."

Did the fact Boeheim was forced to backtrack on his early support of Fine change a former player's opinion on the coach?

Johnson shook his head and said: "I love Coach Boeheim."

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com

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