Stanley Johnson Needs to Start for the Pistons

The Pistons are a mess right now. Detroit has dropped four of their last five games and after a player-only meeting was obliterated by the Chicago Bulls 113-82.

Neither the offense or defense has clicked for Detroit with the return of point guard Reggie Jackson. While there is blame to be placed on him, each and every player on the Pistons must take responsibility for the horrendous actions that they call playing basketball that has taken place over the last week.

Detroit went into the All-Star Break last season with a record of 27-27, with multiple injuries affecting the team. After the break, they were a healthy team, and traded for Tobias Harris, the current starting power forward. It took a few games, as Detroit dropped their first two games with Harris on the team, but eventually, the Pistons got hot. They went 17-11 after adding Harris and returning the full health. Their starting lineup was among league’s best, however, their bench was holding Detroit back of reaching higher in the Eastern Conference standings. The rest of the story goes on as we know: The Pistons went on to earn the 8th seed in the East and then was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the eventual 2016 NBA Champions.

Detroit returned this season with heavy expectations. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris, and Andre Drummond were all another year older. Detroit still had Marcus Morris on one of the friendliest contracts in the NBA. Over the offseason, the Pistons added journeyman point guard Ish Smith, who had just endured a career year with the Philadelphia 76ers. They also signed a veteran big man with the ability to shoot from all over the court in Jon Leuer. Along with that, the Pistons had what many thoughts were a successful draft, in which they selected Henry Ellenson and Michael Gbinije, two nice prospects who could slowly be brought along with a team clearly on the rise. And finally, they still had Reggie Jackson, who had just enjoyed a career year of his own with the Pistons.

Then disaster struck.

Just weeks before the season began news broke that Reggie Jackson was dealing with knee tendonitis. At first, nothing much was thought of it. He had dealt with it throughout his career, making it seem like the injury was not a very big deal. Jackson ended up having to go through treatment on his knee. That procedure cost Jackson the first twenty-one games of the season. Detroit somehow managed to survive. Without Jackson, the Pistons went 11-10 and were on a three-game winning streak before he returned. Jackson’s first game back resulted in a loss for the Pistons, falling to the lowly Magic. While at first it was thought to be first game struggles with Jackson back, the play has not improved for the Pistons. Detroit is just 3-6 since Jackson’s return.

Jackson is averaging just 13.4 points and 4.6 assists in only 25.7 minutes per game since his return. He was on a minute restriction for the first few games but has not been on one as of late. People are beginning to correlate Jackson’s return with Detroit’s struggles. While he does deserve some of the blame, not all of it should be placed on him.

The Pistons need a shakeup, and they will indeed get one, Stan Van Gundy said following the loss to Chicago.

While it is assumed either Jon Leuer or even Ish Smith could replace Marcus Morris/Tobias Harris or Reggie Jackson in the lineup, Detroit should make a different switch.

Inserting Stanley Johnson into the starting lineup for Marcus Morris could make the most sense.

If you are still with me, allow me to explain.

Jon Leuer has been masterful off the bench this season. He is enjoying a career year after being called an overpaid signing by many. He is averaging 11 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.7 rebounds per game. While he is taking the most shots per game ever in his career, he is doing so with his highest efficiency yet. While he is shooting a poor 29.7% from the three-point line, he is knocking down 51.4% of his shots from the field. He provides nice size off the bench next to Aron Baynes, and can also play center, as he has been used their multiples times this season. His production off the bench is too important for the Pistons to lose. Without him, the bench would crumble even if you moved Morris to the second unit. One player can only score so much. Detroit’s offense has been stagnant since Jackson’s return, as many believe there are too many players in the starting five that demand the ball.

How can you fix that issue?

Stanley Johnson is the answer. For some reason, Johnson is not very confident in shooting the ball this season. Last year he averaged 8.1 points per game off the bench, but so far, the scoring knack isn’t there for Johnson. That can be a good thing if Detroit utilizes him the right way.

Stan Van Gundy should start Johnson at small forward and move Marcus Morris to the bench. Johnson can improve the starting lineup in other ways than scoring, which is what Detroit needs anyways. With Jackson hopefully returning to last year’s form soon, his offensive production will rise, and with it the Pistons’ will too.

Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports

Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports

The main reason Johnson should move into the starting lineup is his defensive abilities. Besides Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Johnson is the second best defender on the Pistons roster. His versatility allows him to defend shooting guards, small forwards, and even smaller power forwards. For a team that’s defensive rating has dropped for second best in the league all the way to ninth in a week, Johnson will improve on Detroit’s floundering defense. He also is able to get into passing lanes and come away with steals, an area that Detroit really struggles in. They average the 5th lowest amount of steals per game at 6.9.

He can also provide Detroit with another strong rebounder, especially at the small forward position. With Johnson’s combination of size and strength, he is able to get good positioning in order to grab rebounds.

Johnson’s struggles offensively are well documented, but Detroit does not need his offense. They need his defensive, his rebounding, and his effort desperately.

As for Marcus Morris, he is much better suited for a bench role. He can score the ball in a flurry and can still play around 30 minutes per game. Detroit can use him much like they use Leuer. He can play hefty minutes off the bench and even close games at times if necessary. The bench would look much better offensively with Morris and Leuer both on it. Along with Ish Smith, a player Marcus Morris really enjoys to play with, Detroit’s bench would round out well. Stan Van Gundy could change his rotation so that Stanley Johnson plays around six minutes at small forward and then the final six minutes of the first quarter at shooting guard, while Morris comes in at small forward. This will give Kentavious Caldwell-Pope six minutes of rest, while he could come out to start the second quarter with Morris, Leuer, Smith, and Aron Baynes. Van Gundy could use the same rotation at the start of the third quarter as well. This distributes the minutes well so that all of Detroit’s talented wings receive the minutes they deserve. The move would also fix the issues Detroit’s starting lineup is having.

Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons have had high hopes for Johnson since drafting him with the 8th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. While placing him into the starting lineup now may seem unconventional, Johnson could be exactly what the Pistons need to turn their season back around.

Featured image: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports