A bit of good news: Johnson OK the morning after return from injury

Luke Kennard figures to be at the center of the Pistons offense in Summer League as a prelude to an expanded role in the 2018-19 season.
Gary Dineen (NBAE/Getty)

AUBURN HILLS – Stanley Johnson played like he was shot from a cannon in Friday’s fourth-quarter rally from 17 down. And that might have given Pistons fans encouragement that he was beyond the nagging hip flexor strain that had forced him to miss eight of the previous nine games.

But the real test, as Johnson admitted after Friday’s loss to Washington, would come when he awoke Saturday morning. He’s been down this road enough in the past month to know that much. Play, feel good, go to bed, awake with tightness and limited movement.

So here’s the good news: Stanley Johnson went through Saturday’s practice with no issues.

Johnson kick-started the comeback that saw the Pistons peel 13 points off of Washington’s lead in eight minutes and give them a puncher’s chance to pull out the win. With Johnson spearheading the defense, Luke Kennard shouldered the scoring burden, tossing in 16 points in the fourth quarter.

They did it with Langston Galloway serving as point guard after ceding that role to Dwight Buycks for the past three weeks. Stan Van Gundy hasn’t settled on what he’ll do to fill the minutes when Ish Smith sits in Sunday’s game against Brooklyn, but the betting favorite is on a Galloway-Kennard-Johnson perimeter grouping when the second quarter starts Sunday.

“We’ll see,” he said. “We saw 12 minutes. When you come in down 18, it’s a little bit of a different situation. You get the first nine of those points back with them sort of BSing around a little bit. And then our guys fought really hard and played well even as they went back to their other guys. A little different mindset, so I don’t know how much stock I put in it long term but I was happy with it last night.”

Galloway isn’t going to rewrite Pistons assists records, but playing next to Kennard eases the burden on him to be the unit’s sole or even primary playmaker. Galloway can bring the ball across half court and then Van Gundy can run offense through Kennard.

“I think we’re going to do more and more for him,” Van Gundy said. “He’s a skilled guy and he can read defense and he can shoot it, handle it and pass. We’re going to have to do more and more for him.”

Galloway, Kennard and Anthony Tolliver put three above-average 3-point shooters on the floor and Johnson’s versatility as a ballhandler and passer who runs the floor and rebounds should complement them well. The Pistons just need him to stay healthy after three separate bouts of injury absences that have cost him 11 games, a quarter of the schedule so far.

  • Reggie Jackson isn’t permanently out of his walking boot, but he wore two sneakers Saturday for his seated shooting drills. Jackson will be four weeks removed from his grade 3 ankle sprain on Tuesday. The original timetable called for him to be re-evaluated in six to eight weeks. The Pistons remain hopeful he’ll be able to return after the All-Star break on Feb. 23.

  • Another of the walking wounded, Avery Bradley, sat out Saturday’s practice but only as a precautionary measure, Van Gundy said. Bradley got an injection to facilitate healing of the groin injury that caused him to miss seven games last month and began to bother him again earlier this week. The injection was administered by the same Philadelphia specialist Bradley saw last month, when he declined to get the injection. The effects, he was told, will take three days to fully implement.

    “So he should be a little bit better tomorrow and I think by Wednesday of next week he should feel a pretty good difference,” Van Gundy said.

  • Van Gundy confirmed that the Pistons have applied to the NBA for a disabled player exception for Jon Leuer. If approved, it would give them some flexibility under the salary cap. But don’t expect it to necessarily lead to significant personnel moves.

    “Even if you have it, the chances of you using it are fairly slim,” Van Gundy said. “It’s just something to have in your pocket. I would say the majority of those never get used. (But) why not have something else that’s available to you in case it comes up?”