Season in Review | Stanley Johnson

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

BY THE NUMBERS: Averaged 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds in 17.8 minutes a game, declines across the board from a promising rookie season when Johnson’s numbers were 8.1, 4.2 and 23.1. Shot .353 overall and .292 from the 3-point line, both figures down slightly from his rookie levels.

SEASON IN REVIEW: Johnson struggled from the first week of training camp and through the preseason and it spilled over into the regular season. By mid-November, Johnson was skipped in the rotation in favor of fellow second-year player Darrun Hilliard. It didn’t last long because Hilliard – hampered by being idled for two months last summer with a back injury – also struggled. Johnson gradually picked it up and played better in January and February, shooting .435 overall and .375 from the 3-point line and continuing to show signs of becoming an elite defender. Over the season’s final 21 games, though, Johnson’s offense collapsed as he shot just .276 overall and .246 from the 3-point line.

SHAPING HIS BODY: Johnson is a unique player with the build of an oversized NFL outside linebacker at 6-foot-7 and … well, his weight was probably somewhere in the 245-plus range when the season started and that was part of the problem. While Johnson still looked very much like an elite athlete, he was a little too bulky to fill the role the Pistons expected of him as a defensive force guarding NBA small forwards and shooting guards. Johnson lost a significant amount of weight, more than 15 pounds, and that coincided with his noticeably improved play in January and February. He remarked that he didn’t feel slower at the heavier weight, but noticed a difference in his movement when he watched himself on videotape. Johnson came to the NBA with a man’s body at an age where it’s reasonable to expect there is more physical maturity ahead of him. How that evolution takes place could dictate his NBA future.

FINDING A HOME: The Pistons have already seen the evidence of Johnson’s ability to affect games at the defensive end, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to carve a niche in the NBA without commanding attention at the other end, too. One weak link – in an age where spacing the floor, knocking down 3-point shots and creating driving lanes is essential – can drag down an entire offense. Stan Van Gundy believes Johnson must first become a consistent impact defender – keep reading – and when that happens his offensive identity will begin to emerge. But he admits he’s not sure if Johnson’s future is as a big shooting guard, a quicker small forward or an undersized power forward. He’s used Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Boston’s Jae Crowder as examples of players who established themselves at the defensive end and then flowered as all-around players.

WHAT’S AHEAD: Johnson still has two years left on his rookie contract after the Pistons made him the No. 8 pick in the 2015 draft following Johnson’s freshman season at Arizona. He doesn’t turn 21 until the end of the month. Pistons staffers and coaches remain sold on Johnson’s makeup, toughness and competitiveness. Year three could be a critical crossroads year for him in defining his NBA future.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “He needs to base his game and build his game around being an elite defender in this league. I do think he takes pride in it. He’s got to get better as a team defender, but he needs to be a guy that can impact the game on the defensive end of the floor first and foremost. He’s got to lock in to that. Second thing is his offensive skills have got to improve. … I look at Stanley as a guy who should be a very versatile defender. I think he’s capable of guarding three positions in this league. Love him in that regard.” – Stan Van Gundy