In the final part of our Who Should Start? series I look at whether Stanley Johnson can grab a starting spot.
The third and final piece looking at the three primary options for the Pistons' two starting forward spots. Today, Stanley Johnson stands up to the plate.
Why He Should Start
One of the primary arguments for starting Stanley Johnson is based on his youth and potential. Essentially, the idea is that regardless of his shortcomings as a player so far in his career (which we will get into, and then, some later) he has potential to be an excellent player and the Pistons should give him a chance to really show it.
As far as his actual game, the area he excels in is his defensive abilities. After a very rough start to the season where he was in and out of the rotation, it clicked on that end for him. He is big, strong, fast, and has a desire to compete, which is the right mix for a brilliant defender. He still has some rough edges to smooth out on that end on account of his youth, but by the end of last season, he was Detroit's best defensive player. On top of his skill defensively, he fills a pretty big hole on that end of the court for the Pistons. Over the past two years, they have had trouble with wing scorers who were too big for KCP, with Johnson as a starter and playing starter minutes, that would figure to solve that problem more or less, and the Pistons would have a bona-fide elite wing defender. The potential for an Avery Bradley/Stanley Johnson pairing is incredibly enticing defensively as well, with Bradley eating up the best opposing guard, and Stanley the best wing. Defensively there is not much argument, Stanley Johnson would be hugely beneficial regardless of who slots in at the four. Of course, the question is with his offense.
Obviously, there will be plenty to talk about with his failings, but there are some positives for Stanley on offense. First off is his fit. Stanley is not a guy who figures to be demanding many touches or shots. He can mostly take spot-up looks from deep and go for backdoor cuts off of space created by the Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond dance. This would obviously require Stanley to improve his spot up shooting, especially from three, as he was pretty much miserable by any measure as a spot-up guy and if he doesn't improve in that area, he would do more harm than good as an off-ball option.
The other good news for Stanley is that he could actually operate effectively as a tertiary ball handler with the starting lineup, as the one thing he did with any success last year was ball handling in the pick and roll. He was not particularly efficient scoring out of the pick and roll (though there isn't any area where he was effective scoring quite frankly) but he was quite good passing out of it, especially to the roll man. Per Synergy Sports, he was in the 67th percentile in passing to his roll man. It will be interesting to see if he can build the same sort of chemistry with Andre/Boban Marjanovic/whoever as he did with Aron Baynes, but it didn't take Synergy Sports to tell anyone who was watching that Stanley has some potential as a passer, particularly out of the pick and roll. Letting him play with the starters would allow him to be a tertiary ball handler and not force him into too much creation duties and result in bad habits, instead of allowing him to focus on efficiency.
Why He Should Come Off The Bench
The main worry with starting Stanley has to be, just like Jon Leuer, his shooting. And unlike Leuer, Stanley hasn't really got any history of being much of a shooter. It is hard to run an effective spread pick and roll when you cannot spread the floor with good shooters. Stanley has been a bad shooter in his two NBA seasons and doesn't have much hope of being much better. At this point, most people would probably be happy with him approaching league average, which would be a really huge improvement for him. No matter how effective he may become a player in other areas, if he is unable to improve as a shooter he will be tricky to fit into the starting lineup of this team given its construction.
Beyond his shooting, there is just the fact that it isn't just his long ball that doesn't go in the hoop enough. The biggest step Stanley needs to make this coming season to be anything more than some sort of niche energetic defender is to find some way to get the ball in the basket consistently. Per Synergy Sports, there was literally no shot type in which Stanley was even average last season. His most effective scoring was as a ball handler in the pick and roll, and he only came in at the 30th percentile, which is pretty poor. Even if his deep ball remains similarly poor, he needs to find something that can make him a threat offensively, whether that is getting to the hoop, posting up smaller guys, a floater, midrange shooting, being an excellent cutter, something. Because right now, the reality is that he is closer to being an Andre Roberson type of player more than anything else (not to knock on Roberson, he is a decent player) which is kind of bizarre because Stanley has more than enough tools in different areas to be an effective offensive player.
Lastly, if he doesn't make any significant improvements offensively, a bench role is probably just what he is best suited to, as a super energetic defender who plays with a borderline insanity in his effort. Players like that are hard to play in really heavy minutes because they are only really effective when they can play full bore, so they need lower minutes. Last year, Stanley found a really good groove down the stretch of the season in this role, and as much as we can sit around and talk about his potential, there is a chance that he is best off just being that energy guy off the bench, and it would perhaps be best to have him continue to grow within those confines.
I am in favor of Stanley Johnson starting, at least out of the gate this season. One of the primary reasons is that if he comes off the bench then the most likely replacement for him would be Leuer, (with Tobias Harris moving to SF) and Leuer is not likely to be much more attractive as an off-ball option than Stanley is. Leuer is better at scoring inside and helps a bit more with rebounding and a dash of rim protection, but Stanley's defensive abilities far outweigh anything that Leuer brings to the table. As mentioned earlier, the Bradley/Johnson pairing would be dynamite defensively, and putting Stanley with the starters will allow him to focus on his strengths of being a high-energy defensive player while giving him an easier time learning to refine the other parts of his game. Bringing him off the bench would mean that he would often be the second or third ball-handling/scoring option (behind Ish Smith obviously and perhaps Langston Galloway) and would be forced to create more while having less created for him. Playing him with Jackson and Tobias at the same time, he will not ever be forced to do more than he is capable of while getting to attack more scrambling defenses, along with getting the most open looks spotting up around the Jackson/Drummond pick and roll.
On top of all of that, the Pistons really need to find out what they have in Stanley. He had a somewhat erratic but mostly very solid rookie season in which he was essentially the team's sixth man, and a disappointing start to his second year but found a good groove as the season went on. He is still oozing with potential at just 21 years old, but he needs to start making good on that potential soon. I'd say throw him in the starting lineup, and see if he can perform.
So The Ideal Starting Lineup Is
Jackson, Bradley, Johnson, Harris, Drummond.
The geometry just works best with this lineup I think. Jackson is the high volume ball handler who combines with Drummond for the real engine driving the offense while also being the hero ball specialist who is willing and able to bail the offense out in times of hardship. Harris is the hyper-efficient, if not huge volume, scoring option who is a serviceable defender and spot up guy. Bradley and Johnson make up an incredible defensive tandem while not needing the ball on offense to be effective. And lastly, Drummond comes together to hold the whole thing together with historic rebounding, sucking in defenses with rolls to the hoop, and at least decent defense of the middle. (and hopefully, he makes a leap to be more than just decent to pretty good on that end) I think that is the Pistons' best lineup and as such, it should be the starting lineup.
What do you think? Should Stanley start? What is going to be his best role going forward? What do you think is the ideal starting lineup?