The Phoenix Suns are putting Wesley Johnson in a position to succeed.
For coach Alvin Gentry, the main adjustment is mental.
“He’s a good player … I think with him, the whole thing is about confidence,” Gentry said of Johnson, who has made a combined 11 off 22 shots from the field and has cumulatively scored 30 points in the Suns’ first two preseason games. “He needed confidence, and that’s not unusual for a young player. So, hopefully, we’re going to try to instill that in him.”
For Johnson, selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the fourth pick in the 2010 draft, another important Suns tweak is putting him in the position of small forward. A bouncy 6-foot-7 wing player at Syracuse, Johnson arrived in the Twin Cities with the mandate to produce at the shooting guard position.
But two years that produced just 7.7 points per game — on chilly marksmanship (a tick under 40 percent) from the field — convinced the T-wolves to go in another direction.
Shortly after the Suns acquired Johnson, general manager Lance Blanks suggested that the two-year struggle may have had something to do with working out of position.
Although the Suns are installing some offensive concepts employed by coach Rick Adelman in Minnesota – with shooting guards and small forwards typically occupying similar spots on the floor — Johnson should be more comfortable playing against players his own size. Unable to do much damage posting shorter shooting guards and obliged to chase them around screens on defense, Johnson has a better chance of succeeding at small forward.
“His overall game is better than we anticipated,” Gentry said of Johnson. “He puts the ball down, he’s a long guy, he’s a good defender and he gets out and runs.”
While the sample size thus far has been small, Johnson – teaming with Markieff Morris, Shannon Brown and Jermaine O’Neal – could be a key component of a potentially solid Suns bench.
Or, depending on the development of T-wolves castaway Michael Beasley, he could move into an even bigger role.
A good portion of Beasley’s allure as a small forward is his seeming ability to punish smaller defenders on the low block. But through two dress rehearsals, Beasley’s 17 field-goal attempts have included six 3-pointers (he’s bagged four), with limited evidence of doing business inside.
The corner offense currently being tucked into the Suns’ repertoire does provide excellent opportunities to take advantage of size mismatches — after a ball reversal to the weak side — while limiting defensive help.
On one such occasion during Friday’s preseason game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Beasley chose a fadeaway jumper instead of going strong against 6-7, 200-pound Nic Batum. Although skilled players such as Beasley certainly have the chops to make these shots, this one clanged.
Beasley, listed at 6-10 and 235 but measured a shade over 6-8 (in sneakers) at the pre-draft camp, is well aware of his need for additional low-post grinding.
“I do like working on my low-post game,” Beasley said. “Right now, I’m just happy to learn every day from two or three different positions. But that’s something I want to improve on this year.”
Beasley, who has spent a little time at the four spot, as well, has the inside-outside versatility to become a major addition.
In each of the Suns’ first two preseason games, the starters have squeezed off 38 shots … and made an impressive 20.
For Suns fans, that’s pretty comforting.
But if they knock in 20 of 38 on Wednesday against the Mavericks, that’ll be nothing but spooky.