Stanley Johnson confident (of course) he’ll show major strides in 2nd Pistons season

Stanley Johnson is eager for the preseason to start to put his summer work to the test.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

As a teenager in the cauldron of the NBA playoffs against the world’s greatest player, Stanley Johnson learned that when you become the straw that stirs the drink you run the risk of being caught in its whirlpool.

Stan Van Gundy pulled Johnson aside and reminded him of LeBron James’ resume and the immense downside of calling him out as the Pistons waded into the NBA’s postseason waters for the first time in seven springs last April. Johnson took the lesson to heart – and has admitted many times since that he had much to learn about the ways of the NBA.

But Johnson’s boundless confidence – the quality that has enabled every remarkable step of his rapid basketball ascent – springs from the same place that produces the audacity to be incensed by failure in the face of competition with players whose Hall of Fame credentials are already established. You might as well try your luck splitting the atom as separating Johnson’s confidence from his brashness.

In other words, he’s still going to fill up reporters’ notepads this season. After a voluntary team workout with all 18 players who’ll be part of Pistons training camp that starts Sept. 27, Johnson spoke with his typical candor this week:

  • On how much better he expects to play this season: “I can go through a list of 10 things – 30 things – I can do better this year than last year. So now being able to do it better and having more of a skill set to do it better, it’s going to be good for me.”

  • On the work he put in on his jump shot and his left hand: “I’ve got a feel for my jumper. I’ve got a feel for my left. And then when I’m making jump shots, it’s hard to close on me and get back. I’ve been consciously going to my left all summer and now it’s to the point where I’m just going left instinctually. That’s what I’m doing. I think people will get surprised how much I actually do go to my left this year. I’m surprising myself how much I’m going left already.”

  • On his shot mechanics changing through constant repetition and working on it every day, before and after workouts: “Even if I’m just in sweats and running shoes, I just go get form shots to make muscle memory. It’s a new thing to me, but I feel like it’s normal now. I don’t even know what I used to shoot like any more. I can’t feel it any more. That’s just a testament to (associate head coach) Bob (Beyer) and (shooting coach) Dave (Hopla) and myself working together this summer and putting hours into the gym. In Summer League it was definitely difficult. But now it’s fluid.”

  • On whether he took any time for fun over the off-season: “Fun to me is coming back this season and playing better. When we lost last season, I put on a lot on myself individually. I felt like I could’ve been better in certain spots to, one, not have us the eighth seed, and then once we got in the playoffs, I could’ve been better. I loved being home in California this summer, but I hated being home and having to go out and people were like, ‘Aren’t the playoffs still going on?’ I don’t want it to be like, ‘Oh, you guarded LeBron.’ I want to be on the team that’s winning. That’s what this summer was all about for me – come back and let’s work to be better. So all I can do this summer is come back and do my part and be a better player. Now we’re here for training camp. It’s time to come together as a team.”

  • On his forecast for the Eastern Conference: “I think we can compete with any team in the East. I don’t see a reason why we can’t beat all the teams, night to night, and if you say you can beat all the teams there’s no reason for you to fall short of that. I definitely think we’re a playoff team; I definitely think we’re a home-court advantage team. I don’t know how that lands, but I definitely think that’s the potential we have.”

  • On whether his goal is to crash the starting lineup or be the NBA’s best sixth man this season: “I want to be the best me. That’s all I can do. Whether I start or not, that’s up to coach Van Gundy. All I know is when I get in the game, I can play. When I’m in there, I want to make an impact and do what I can do to help our team win. I think he knows that and we’ll see what happens in training camp.”

  • On his anticipation to get going and put his off-season to work: “I think everything’s a little bit easier. I feel like I’m able to do things with my left hand, passes to the corner, coming off screens to the left. I’m just really excited to see preseason and see where I’m at compared to other teams in the NBA and excited to show everybody what I’ve been working on.”

The player ahead of him on the depth chart at small forward, Marcus Morris, fully expects greater impact from Johnson this season. Morris agrees with Van Gundy that it probably would benefit both him and the Pistons to play a few less minutes a game this season and knows he’ll turn his position over to capable hands in Johnson’s.

“Stanley Johnson is going to have a big year for us,” Morris said. “He went through a lot of little things last year, being a young guy. He’s worked his (backside) off this off-season, so I know he’s going to have a big year for us. A lot of those things that Coach didn’t trust, Coach has got more trust in him now. Whether he’s coming to get me or if we’re on the court together playing more, he’s definitely going to have a good year for us.”

And that should make for a good year for headline writers, too – and for the Pistons.

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