Stanley Johnson Can Develop Into a Nice Player, and it Might Just Happen This Season

Stanley Johnson didn't have a great 2017-18 season, but there's still a chance he can develop into a nice player, and it might just happen this season.

About Last Year

Games Starts MPG FG FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
69 50 27.4 3.0 8.1 .375 1.0 3.4 .286 1.6 2.1 .772 0.5 3.2 3.7 1.6 1.4 0.2 1.1 2.4 8.7

It was another up and down season for Stanley Johnson, he remains bursting with potential and continues to show flashes, but also remains a long way from realizing that potential. It is worth mentioning that the lows were not as bad as in his sophomore year, but there were some real lows.

Stanley began the season as the starter at small forward and other than a miserable 0-13 opener, he started off pretty strong. However, it quickly degraded; his shot was still broken on his way to shooting just 37.5% from the field and 28.6% from deep. He came off the bench in 19 games and started 50, but in both situations, his playing time varied significantly. While his defense was hugely important to the Pistons, his offense was a clear anchor for them.

In the end, it was a small step forward for Johnson from the previous season. While he proved himself on the defensive end, he may never end up playing enough to get real All-Defense hype, even if he is that caliber of a defender. He can handle the best scorers in the NBA, whether they are forwards, wings, or even point guards, and his alert off-ball defense is similarly as impressive. His wide and strong body also made him a plus on the glass. He found a bit of a groove coming off the bench, where he became a transition bully to having a true shooting percentage of 51.8%. He still has to learn to put the ball in the basket somehow, but Johnson's defense is now at the point where he is a legitimate rotation player.

What to expect this season

Role

Right now all signs point to a starting spot being his to lose at small forward. Between the possibility of using Bullock at the 3 and new addition Glenn Robinson III, he will have some real competition, but everyone from Tom Gores to Dwane Casey to Andre Drummond on Twitter has been talking Johnson up a great deal. If he can improve his offense, there's a real chance for him to lead the team in minutes.

Offensively

Johnson has shown flashes of competence on offense. He pulls up for jumpers with confidence, is a smart passer, can really handle the ball for his size, is tenacious attacking the hoop, is an active off-ball cutter, and is a blur in transition. And yet, for all that promise, Johnson is one of the least efficient scorers in basketball. Although Johnson's true shooting percentage of 48% from last season did mark a career high, it is a huge problem. Many people bring up his outside shot as all that needs fixing, but that just isn't the case. Stanley has huge struggles putting the ball in the hoop reliably from every distance and every situation. He's a terrible three-point shooter, a terrible mid-range shooter, has little in the way of floaters or any other in-between game, and is not an effective finisher at the hoop.

So while Johnson finding a reliable three-point shot would be the best thing for his long-term prospects as a starter, it doesn't have to be that. If he can become reliable at putting the ball in the hoop in any capacity it would do wonders for him. For all of the complaining that Stan Van Gundy never put him in the right situations, the reality is that no matter where he has gotten the ball, and no matter what situation he gets it, Stanley Johnson just misses too many shots. His shot is so far off that any possession that ended with a Stanley Johnson shot was essentially a punt if it wasn't some sort of play that gave him a wide open layup or dunk.

The good news is that Johnson made his first real step towards finding a place on offense last season, even if it isn't the most ideal one. While coming off the bench in the middle of the season he found a comfort zone with the ball in his hands a bit more. He was particularly effective in transition, where he would grab rebounds and charge up the floor, smashing any defenders foolish enough to get in his path.

Johnson's efficiency off the bench still wasn't great, his TS% was just 51.8%, still well below the competency line of 53% and he still shot just 28.8% from deep. But he got out and ran, drew tons of fouls, and was a central force in the offense. As a starter, Johnson scored 8.6 points, grabbed 3.6 rebounds, and dished 1.7 assists in 29 minutes per game. In his 19 games off the bench, in just 23.4 minutes, Johnson scored 9 points, grabbed 3.8 boards, and dished 1.4 assists. The Pistons are clearly hoping he starts, but there is a blueprint for how Stanley can find a role in the offense that isn't actively hurting them.

While it isn't likely, it isn't totally out of the question that Johnson puts all of his obvious potentials together, and becomes a good offensive player. The numbers between him and Jimmy Butler in their first three seasons are eerily similar. On top of that, Johnson is well known as a relentless worker with a real desire to be great. So while it is unlikely that a player who is a very bad offensive player through his first three seasons becomes a great one, he is the sort of guy who could be an exception.

More realistically, the Pistons have to hope he can hit close to 35% of his long-balls, get out in transition, and generally isn't a negative on offense.

Defense

Johnson established himself as an elite defender last season and there is no reason to expect anything different. He will handle the opponent's best wing scorers on most nights, especially the big wing types, and will be hugely important on some nights as a result. Johnson still has improvements to make before he becomes a true all-world defender, but he's so good already that it's hard to complain at all. In the end, Johnson is everything the Pistons could've ever hoped he would be on the defensive end, the only question is if his offense will allow him to stay on the floor enough to make an impact.

Intangibles

Johnson's fire burns hot and he is brimming with confidence and a desire to be great. New coach Dwane Casey will encourage that fire more than Van Gundy did, but it isn't clear what the results will be. Even if Johnson's personality is sometimes difficult, he has endeared himself to his teammates, his effort is contagious, and even if he ends up taking more shots than he should, they are mostly good shots. It is hard to be a real leader without being a really good player, but Stanley should still be one.

Biggest Question

Can he get the ball in the hoop? I've stated it a few times. It doesn't really matter how; it can be as a spot-up guy, an elite cutter, a mid-range master, a post-up brute against smaller wings, a bludgeoning driver, whatever. His outside shot will go a long way towards making him fit long-term with the starters, but if he can become some semblance of a scoring option he can be a highly effective player for the Pistons.

Best Case Scenario

The Jimmy Butler comparisons were not crazy. Another offseason of work combines with extra confidence instilled by Dwane Casey and Johnson finally realizes his immense potential as a two-way star. He scores close to 20 points per game and cements himself as a long-term piece, he even shoots 35% from deep for good measure. Johnson's ascent changes the entire projection of the Pistons franchise as they now have a legit all-star on the wing to combat the multitude of them across the league. The rest of the roster stays mostly healthy and Johnson is suddenly the Pistons third, maybe the second-best player, on their run to being the annual sacrifice to the Warriors in the finals.

Worst case scenario

Johnson has been bad on offense the last three years because he actually is just bad. The flashes will always be just flashes, and the ball will never get in the hoop. He remains a high-level defender but he soon loses his starting job and slowly falls out of the rotation entirely. The Pistons end up either trading him at the deadline to some team who is willing to take a waiver on him or he slips away, unwanted, in free agency. Meanwhile, the Pistons get torched by every elite wing scorer in the NBA and we are all left to wonder "what if Stanley had ever learned to play offense?"

How likely is he to figure it out to any extent on offense?

Pretty good still. Remember that he is still just 22 years old, after all. In the end, my belief is starting to dwindle. I will put faith in him finding some reliable offense this season because I've never stopped believing that he will do so at some point. But the reality is that if he is going to figure it out, it kind of has to be this year, so I'll go all in on it. I truly think that his destiny will be as a 6th man. He can't really start or play heavy minutes with the starters if he shoots 28% from deep (especially with this team) but he showed enough abilities with the ball in his hands that he could really thrive as a backup. He is unlikely to ever be good enough offensively to warrant taking possessions away from Griffin, Jackson, or even Bullock, which is why he should maybe go to the bench.

It is also worth mentioning that I don't see this as a terrible thing. If Reggie Jackson and Blake Griffin stay healthy, the Pistons have plenty of ball-handling and creating with the starters. Reggie Bullock isn't a pushover on defense and neither is Glenn Robinson III (who would likely replace Johnson). Johnson meanwhile could be a great creator with bench units who could take on heavier minutes in matchups where his defense is required in heavier doses.

How impactful would it be for the Pistons if he went the Jimmy Butler route?

Totally game-changing. So let's say that Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson are mostly healthy, the mark I've set for that is 135 games between the two of them, Johnson making a Butler style improvement would give the Pistons three legit lead options in the offense. Given that the other two starters (Drummond and Bullock, or even Kennard if you want to project) are elite off-ball players who thrive with guys who can create, they could have a truly devastating starting lineup. On top of that, even if not to the same levels as Butler, if Johnson finds enough offense that he is not just passable but a plus with the starters, him and Drummond could form a killer inside/outside defensive pairing. On top of that, the Pistons would have a huge team that would rebound like crazy and could switch really effectively. Jackson can guard bigger guys, Bullock is 6'7, Johnson can guard literally anyone, Griffin is slow for quick guards but he isn't a total bum, and Drummond is one of the most impressive inside/outside defensive wrecking balls alive. So yeah, Stanley Johnson doing what Jimmy Butler did would make the Pistons a legitimate title contender.

So in conclusion...

Wink knowingly at your friends if

  • Stanley Johnson is swallowing up opposing scorers night in and out.
  • Johnson hits enough threes that opponents like, actually guard him.
  • Whispers of Jimmy Butler start to be heard, and they are not crazy.
  • He spends a lot of time with the bench and dominates unsuspecting bench players.

Run for the hills if

  • *brick
  • *brick
  • *brick
  • You get the point.

Opportunities for me to look stupid

  • Johnson takes the last step on defense and is one of the best defenders alive.
  • He doesn't go full Jimmy Butler, but he finds a comfort level as a creator who is a decent option in the offense.
  • He shots 34% on mostly wide open threes.
  • He starts every game he plays in and is second to only Drummond in minutes per game.
  • 14/5/3.

What do you think? Can Stanley find any offense? Is he better suited off the bench?

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