The Man with the Golden Smile

The cycle has begun anew. The Lakers signed Wes Johnson this summer, and Lakers fans popped open their champagne bottles, as they often do. Like the pick-up of Greg Oden and Michael Beasley by the Heat, it was a low-risk, high-reward signing. And, after all, their franchise had turned players into superstars before, right? With a little help from Kobe, Wes Johnson would be the next big thing in L.A. Here are some sample tweets:

“Wes Johnson WILL be the next @kobebryant if he has the mamba mentality. He has the skill and will be a long-term Laker.” “Wes Johnson was a beast at Cuse and for the Twolves. He was on the All-Rookie Team” “Wesley Johnson might be another one of these diamonds in the rough that Mitch seems to find – i.e. Earl Clark, Shannon Brown”

One could argue that Wes Johnson has undergone a bit of a renaissance in Los Angeles. He’s shooting a career-high 37% on 3-pointers and has had quite a few highlight dunks so far this season (like this for instance):

The reaction from Lakers fans so far might be called “cautiously optimistic,” if Lakers fans were capable of tempering their “divine right” style of optimism. Surprising play from guys like Nick Young and Xavier Henry have for the most part overshadowed Johnson’s play, but there doesn’t seem to be a ton of negativity towards him from Lakers Nation at this point. Still, the red flags are there. He continues to get to the free throw line at an abysmal rate, having shot just 16 free throw attempts through 27 games. Though it’s not a fair comparison, James Harden has nearly 200 attempts in several less games. For an athletic guard who likes to take it to the rim, the total inability to draw fouls continues to hamper Johnson’s efficiency. He’s also not averaging more points or assists per 36 minutes than he did in Minnesota, and advanced stats like PER and WS/48 say he’s still a seriously below-average player.

It’s not that Wolves fans want to see Wes Johnson fail — I think most of us enjoy his beaming smile and superhuman athleticism. But we know too well the perils of having hoped for and been let down by Wes. If he doesn’t make it in L.A., it could be his last stop. I hope Wes turns into an All-Star overnight, becomes an iconic Laker, and proves the doubters wrong. But at this point, I wouldn’t bet on it. So what’s the solution for Wes Johnson? How does he finally turn it all around? No, it’s not a new shooting form, training regimen, or even the mentorship of Black Mamba. It’s the decathlon.

The Decathlon

The decathlon consists of ten different track-and-field events performed over the course of two days. The length and scope of the event has made it the event that crowns “The Greatest Living Athlete,” at least unofficially. Do you see where I’m headed? Wesley Johnson may lack basketball skills, but he is a tremendous athlete. His sheer athleticism pushed him to the NBA, but it’s clearly not the best possible setting for him. Maybe I’m na├»ve, but I see no reason why Wesley Johnson wouldn’t be primed to dominate in contests that relied on pure athleticism. Let’s break them down.

100 Meters, 400 Meters, 1500 Meters

Sprinters are highly trained, and getting off the block quickly would be a technical challenge. Still, Wes is a quick guy, and while these might not be his strength, he should be fine here. Basketball players can run over 3000 meters a game. (Of course, basketball players don’t run meters, they run feet. But we make some concessions to compete on a global scale.) Wes just needs to hold his own in these. He should be fine here.

110 Meter Hurdles

Long legs have to give Wes a leg up here. Right? Right?! Or if he can’t figure out how to get over the hurdles in rhythm, he could always take this approach:

Pole Vault

Wes would destroy this event. Heck, if you told him to dunk over the bar he might not even need that silly pole that the other vaulters use.

Long Jump

Again, Wes should blow the competition out of the water. It’s about 19 feet from the free throw line to the baseline. While I don’t know exactly what a meter is, 19 feet sounds way longer than 8.95 meters, the world record long jump. The only struggle here would be teaching Wes to keep going forward rather than dunking a ball midway through his jump.

Shot Put, Discus Throw, Javelin Throw

If Wes can manage the discus throw without getting dizzy and throwing it in the wrong direction, he should do okay here. Boy, a lot of these Decathlon events are kind of redundant. They should replace one of these with a dunk contest. Or thumb wrestling.

High Jump

This seems like it would be easy for a high-flyer like Wes, but the technical skill required to execute what I hope is still called a Fosbury Flop is probably not trivial. Still, he’s got more than two years to learn how to do it. This is for the greater glory of America.

Rio 2016

America has gotten a gold medal in the decathlon 13 times in the last 25 times the event has been held. We’ve won it the last two Olympics. In an era where the Olympics reflect not only modern day superpower tensions (see: 2012 Beijing Olympics) but also a referendum on human rights (America’s delegation to Sochi being a calculated slap in the face to Russia’s stance on gay rights), winning is more important than ever. Sure, the decathlon isn’t just a pure athletic contest–it’s a multifaceted and complex competition whose participants train non-stop to compete at the highest possible level. But this is America–can’t we dream? Why can’t one of the best athletes in basketball, a sport that fields some of the best athletes in the country, make a splash? It would be true redemption for Wes Johnson, a point of national pride for all Americans. And most of all, it would free the Wolves of one of their many draft day demons. “How on earth could we have passed him up?” we would say, “After all, he was the World’s Greatest Athlete.”

photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

Classically-trained French horn player born and raised in Minnesota. Latecomer to the game of basketball, but an ardent fan nevertheless. Objectivity is overrated. On twitter at @WillEisenberg

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