Johnson’s closing flourish leads to Pistons win – and earns SVG’s critical approval
Fernando Medina (NBAE/Getty)
ORLANDO – Stanley Johnson felt like he was all thumbs for the first 38 minutes, then put his thumbprints all over the game in the final two. It was a Summer League game, sure, but it’s exactly what the Pistons have come to expect with their budding second-year star.
“That’s just me being competitive,” he said after the 80-76 win over Indiana kept the Pistons unbeaten at 3-0 in the Summer League standings. “I’m going to play like that regardless whether it’s a Boys & Girls Club or in Game 4 or Game 7 of the Finals.”
And by “like that” he means like this: After missing all five of his 3-point attempts to that point, and all but three of his 15 shots, Johnson drained two triples in two tries in the final two minutes. Both put the Pistons ahead by one point after a 10-0 Indiana run had wiped out the biggest Pistons lead of the game, eight points. After the Pacers regained the lead again, he ran a pick-and-roll play and found his former Arizona teammate, Kaleb Tarczewski, for a point-blank layup to again put the Pistons up by one point with 23 seconds to play.
In the remaining time, he came up with a steal and two clinching free throws and helped force an Indiana turnover with a five-second inbounding call by denying a pass to former Michigan star Glenn Robinson III.
“I really like the way he’s playing – I do,” Stan Van Gundy said after Johnson’s 16-point, five-rebound, four-steal, three-assist outing. “I like the things he’s working on. It’s hard to do that. You’re in a setting, it’s on TV, you want to play to your strengths and he’s consciously playing to work on things. I like it.”
Johnson is so determined to work on his left-hand dribble that he’s found defenders denying his ability to go that way.
“I almost need to start going back right so they can force me back left,” he said. “I guess I’m doing a good job of focusing on going left if guys are forcing me to go right now. It’s kind of ironic, I would say. But this is the stuff I wanted to get done here.”
Johnson spent a full three weeks with Pistons associate head coach Bob Beyer and a week with shooting coach Dave Hopla, both of whom came to his Orange County, Calif., home throughout June. Beyer is helping Johnson refine his footwork, utilizing his left-handed dribble and putting him in a greater array of shot situations. Hopla is working on his shot mechanics with a focus on attaining a higher release point. In drills, it’s relatively easy to stay on track, Johnson said, but a little more challenging in games.
“It’s the first time I’ve played five on five, so a lot of this stuff, in drills, is easier to come off pick and rolls and knock down shots when you know you’ve got extra shots and it’s just a drill. But in the game, bodies are flying, guys are flying, you’re also trying to make reads and passes because you’re trying to decide when to shoot. In a drill, you already know you’re shooting, so you’re focused on getting up, getting your elbow up and getting it through. In a game, it’s a little different. I think I finally got some comfortable attempts up, so now I can make it more natural in a game setting.”
Van Gundy, initially hesitant to allow Johnson to compete in Summer League for fear it would impede his progress in skills development, has now come around.
“I think he’s doing exactly what he should be doing here in the Summer League,” Van Gundy said. “Just what we talked about. He’s had a lot of chances where he could’ve just driven the ball to his right hand and scored, but you can see him almost consciously trying to get to his left hand right now, which is probably taking him a little out of his rhythm. But it’s good stuff for him to work on. Then he made a great pass to Kaleb to win the game. I like his approach and how he’s trying to play. When he looks at film, it’ll just be another learning experience and a chance for him to move forward.”