The season preview continues today with the Piston's starting small forward: Stanley Johnson.
About last year
Last year Started out poorly for Stanley Johnson. He struggled with his play and supposedly had some attitude issues and other general off-court stuff that came to a head in him being suspended for a game. After the first couple months of the season though, he started to win his way back into Stan Van Gundy's good graces with ferocious defensive effort and playing with an almost maniacal abandon. By the end of the year, his offensive numbers will still largely very bad, but the results on the floor were still largely great. The eye test (and statistics) showed him to be the Pistons' best defender and his high energy play was a huge plus even on offense, and the result is that he teamed up with Tobias Harris to be a member of some of the Pistons best lineups last year. He still has work to do, but it was an encouraging end to the year.
Where he stands now
Stanley is entering the 3rd year of his rookie scale deal; there is a team option for next year which the Pistons will certainly take baring some sort of disaster. He will make just over $3million this year and just under $4million next year. He is 21 and will be so for the entire season, and appears to have handily won a job in the starting lineup.
This is where the questions for Stanley are. Last year, even after a strong finish to the year, he still scored just 4.4 points per game on the year, which came out to a pathetic 8.9 per 36 minutes, and he did it on miserable efficiency with a true shooting percentage of 43.6%. And once again, even when he started to play better, he still was scoring the ball poorly.
People are bringing up him finding a 3 point shot, and while that would be nice after a career mark of just 30.1% from deep, but that isn't the priority. Stanley Johnson needs to find some way to get the ball in the basket. Whether that be with a consistent 3 point shot, becoming good as a cutter and finisher at the rim, driving out of the pick and roll, pull-up jumpers in the midrange, whatever. Per Synergy Sports, there is no area or scoring that Stanley did not grade out as below average or worse. Even if teams do ignore him when he spots up, he needs to make himself a threat somehow on offense, because otherwise, he could well end up being a disaster as a starter.
The good news is that he still has potential to be a very nice offensive player. He is largely oozing with confidence and has some real skill for such a large man. He is legitimately a good passer and playmaker, particularly out of the pick and roll and has very good instincts on the offensive end. Once again, the only problem is that he can't make the ball go in the hoop. In theory if he could maybe stay close to the corners from 3 (where he has actually been decent as a spot up guy in both of his seasons) to drag his 3 point percentage up around 35%, and learns to utilize his strength inside a little bit better to be an actual scoring threat with the ball in his hands, the Pistons could suddenly find themselves with a really complete offensive wing player who can spot up and also be a solid tertiary ball handler. Those are big "ifs" but they are not unrealistic by the eye test or statistical test from his first two years. It also should be noted that Stanley is well known as a very hard worker who has a real drive to be great, which ups my confidence in him making that leap a bit.
In the end, as long as he makes some progress offensively, he will slot in as the 5th option in the offense who largely stays off the ball as a spot up guy and cutter, who will get the occasional chance to do a little ball handling. My guess is also that he will spend a significant amount of time playing with the bench mobs, at which point he will take on a more active role in the offense. (To be correct, I just think he is going to play a ton this year, which means time with bench guys whether by design or not).
This is the good stuff for Stanley. By the end of last year he had solidified himself as the Pistons best defensive player and looks poised to make the final step to becoming one of the NBA's top all-around defensive wrecking balls this season, and the preseason games he's played have only impressed on this end.
His size, speed, quickness, and toughness is the perfect combination of elite defense and is why the team drafted him. Avery Bradley will take the best guard most nights, but don't be surprised to see Stanley swapping across 4 positions with regularity. He should fill a big hole the Pistons have had in that he is big enough to handle guys like Jimmy Butler or DeMar DeRozan, while previously that would fall to Marcus Morris who had limitations on defense. He and Bradley should form a truly potent duo that terrorizes opposing teams on defense, and it should be legitimately enjoyable to watch.
In the end, there isn't much question on this end. He is already terrific on defense; the only question is if he is ready to make a run at an All-Defense spot this year or not. I think he will.
His fire burns hot, and he wants to be great. SVG has regularly stated that this can at times make him a challenge to coach, but based on Stanley's play and things that both SVG and Stanley have said in camp suggests that they have found a happy area between them. And SVG is always sure to say that the confidence and desire that can make Stanley a challenge at times is one of the things that they love about him and that SVG wouldn't have it any other way. So unless there start to be rumors of problems again, I would expect Stanley to be an exemplary citizen and be a leader on the floor with his effort.
Best Case Scenario
Stanley has a come to Jesus moment with his long ball and shoots 37% to be a real threat from deep, while also managing to make good on his potential as a ball handler in the pick and roll. By the end of the year, he is firmly slotted in as the Pistons 3rd offensive option (behind Jackson and Harris) and is a captain of sorts with bench units. He makes the last step defensively and makes an All-Defense team which combines with his offensive improvements for him to win Most Improved Player.
Worst Case Scenario
He continues not to be able to score at all; teams ignore him on the offensive end to the point that SVG eventually has to pull him as a starter. Getting moved to the bench and the frustration with his struggles cause Stanley to become a negative locker room presence, and he slowly slips out of the rotation as his effort and confidence slip away, and he ends up being a bust.
So in conclusion:
Wink Knowingly At Your Friends If
- Stanley is hitting corner 3s a lot.
- He shows good chemistry with the backup centers as he did with Baynes his rookie year.
- He and Bradley combine to swallow up great scorers with regularity throughout the year.
Run for the hills if
- He is bricking everything.
- He is anything less than great defensively.
- There start to be rumors of his discontent.
Opportunities for me to look stupid
- Stanley is the Pistons minutes leader by the end of the season.
- He averages over 10 points per game.
- Shoots 35% from deep, largely from the corners.
- Gets serious consideration for All-Defense, even if he doesn't make it.
What do you think? Can he put it together on offense? Can he make the last step on defense?