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Mike D'Antoni grooming Wesley Johnson for Shawn Marion-like role

October 30, 2013|By Eric Pincus
  • Wesley Johnson, left, celebrates in front of Blake Griffin after hitting a three-pointer during the Lakers' 116-103 season-opening victory over the Clippers.
Wesley Johnson, left, celebrates in front of Blake Griffin after hitting… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

How often can a player shoot 1 of 11 from the field and still play a big role in a victory?

On Tuesday night, Lakers forward Wesley Johnson scored just three points in 20½ minutes and even missed a dunk attempt), but his defense on Blake Griffin in the fourth quarter was a big reason for an  opening night victory against the Clippers.

"I'm happy we got the win," Johnson said with a big smile after the game.  "I'm going to do everything that will help this team win.

"One of these nights, I [may] have a bad shooting night but I'm going to impact in some type of way that's going to benefit [the team]. I don't really get discouraged about my shooting."

Originally taken fourth overall in the 2010 NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, the 6-foot-7, 215-pound Johnson has struggled as a pro.

The Lakers, hoping he'd become a defensive stopper, signed him to a minimum-salary contract this summer.

How did Coach Mike D'Antoni envision Johnson as a power forward capable of defending the Lakers of Griffin, who is 6-10 with about 40 more pounds of muscles than Johnson?

"What coaches have to coach Shawn Marion?" D'Antoni said. "That was the experience I had and I told Wesley and that's a lofty goal, no doubt about it, because Shawn is obviously one of the better players in the league -- but [Johnson] has a lot of those qualities. He can do that. He can disrupt at the four."

At 6-foot-7, Marion was a four-time All-Star with the Phoenix Suns, typically playing as an undersized power forward for D'Antoni.

Johnson has spent time studying film of Marion.

"I was watching clips, an edit of him, what he was able to do," said Johnson, on Marion playing the four, or power forward, position. "He used his quickness."

Marion proved to be a dependable shooter for Phoenix. Johnson may not continue getting quality playing minutes if he keeps shooting 1 of 11, but against the Clippers he made up for it.

Griffin went scoreless in the fourth quarter, unable to figure out how to deal with Johnson's length, athleticism and quickness, and the Lakers' help defenders.

"Wes on Blake ... isn't obviously an easy matchup for Wes, but he was active and everyone played really active around him," said Lakers point guard Steve Nash, who played with Marion in Phoenix. "I think our speed was able to take some things away that didn't allow them to beat us up with their size."

Nash doesn't think the comparison to Marion is out of bounds.

"[D'Antoni] mentioned that a few times and I actually think it's not that far-fetched," said Nash. "Wesley is an incredible athlete. He has a chance to be very versatile for our team."

Now Johnson just has to work on that jump shot ... 

ALSO:

Preview: Lakers vs. Clippers

The Lakers have a brutal week to start

Rookie Ryan Kelly makes it to opening night

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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