Summer Success could do Wonders for Stanley Johnson

Stanley Johnson had a season full of trials last year, but there is hope for him yet. Image: Rob Carr/Getty Images

As the roster stands, the Detroit Pistons currently have three players that were selected as a lottery pick. The third year pro Stanley Johnson is one of the three as he was selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2015 draft.

Johnson entered the NBA as a premiere slashing forward from the University of Arizona where he played one year under Sean Miller. At Arizona, Johnson started all 38 games during his one season while averaging 28.4 minutes, 13.8 points, and 6.5 rebounds per game. As a Wildcat Johnson shot 37.1% from behind the three point line, so he wasn’t expected to be a typical ‘Three-and-D’ guy as soon as he touched an NBA floor. What was there for Johnson is his upside, and in what is now going to be his third season in the league he may be primed for a breakout run.

As a rookie, Johnson showed promised as he played 23.1 minutes, averaging 8.1 points, and 4.2 rebounds per game. Considering being loaded at the forward position, those were manageable numbers for Johnson as a rookie. However, Johnson seemed to go missing throughout year two, and his second season was the epitome of a sophomore slump. His numbers dropped across the board and it left Pistons’ fans with high concern for his future.
Last season, Johnson averaged 17.8 minutes off of the bench while scoring 4.4 points and grabbing 2.5 rebounds per game. Those numbers can be mind boggling when you think about the caliber of player Johnson was projected to be. This off season Van Gundy and Johnson have had talks about where he stands mentally. Van Gundy believes if he can stay confident in his game, he’ll be hard to stop, but until then he’ll struggle.

From Kirkland Crawford Detroit Free Press:

“There’s two things with him: getting himself physically ready – looked really good earlier in the summer and has gotten his weight down – but then where he is mentally. One of the things you’ve got to watch with him is that his idea on how to become a great player is to do more and more and more and have a bigger and bigger and bigger role. In a lot of cases, that’s not the way it’s worked,” Van Gundy said.

Johnson attributes his struggles to his stubbornness. The first step of getting over it is admitting it, and he did just that.

From Kieth Langlois of NBA.com:

“I’m so bullheaded when it comes to certain things,” Johnson admitted as he embarked on his third year of Summer League practises since the Pistons made him the No. 8 pick in the 2015 draft. “I have to learn a lot of things.”

At 6’7, 245lbs Johnson has the ability to drive to the basket, and knock down the open jumper. His size allows him to comfortably play the SF position because he’s able to guard opposing players with similar body builds. Johnson has always been known as a freakish athlete, but Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy would love to see that translate to the defensive end.

From Kirkland Crawford of Detroit Free Press:

“I think now we have a chance to become an elite defensive team and Stanley’s a huge part of that,” Van Gundy told Keith Langlois of NBA.com. “And then I think it’s for him to really find his offensive game and it takes some guys some time.”

Van Gundy is confident that Johnson’s offensive production will pick up as it takes a young player a while to get fully acquainted to the NBA. Referring back to Johnson’s defensive capability, Van Gundy has high expectations.

From Kieth Langlois of NBA.com:

“Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, his primary role will be to guard the best forward or a big two guard every night,” Van Gundy said. “Avery will take on the challenge of guarding the best guard every night and then Andre (Drummond) will take on more responsibility as a defender and that’s our way to becoming an elite defensive team.”

With the departure of SF Marcus Morris via the trade with the Celtics for Avery Bradley, the Pistons got thinner at forward. That isn’t much of a problem since they still have the likes of Johnson, Tobias Harris, Jon Leuer, Henry Ellenson, and Anthony Tolliver. However, with Morris packing his bags, Van Gundy and staff will definitely need more all-around production from Johnson.

From Vince Ellis of Detroit Free Press:

“Obviously coming off the year I had, having the opportunity to play extended minutes and a role that I aim to be at in my career, it’s going to be awesome,” Johnson told the Free Press. “I’m excited to see what I’m going to be. I don’t know what I’m going to do. It could be really, really amazing; it could be mediocre. I feel like I’m the only real, full, natural (small forward) on the team that can do both ways on it.”

This off season, Johnson has worked to fine-tune his offensive skill-set in order to obtain a bigger role for the Pistons. Johnson’s game was on display on August 5 at the OVO Championship Game, a summer league in Toronto sponsored by Drake. Johnson led Team OVO to an overtime victory by scoring 16 of his 86 points in the final 20 seconds according to Ballislife.com’s David Astramskas.

Okay, it was just a summer league game, but there were a number of NBA players who participated. If Johnson can continue to hone his defensive ability and began to become a legit scoring threat he could most certainly help the Pistons evolve.

From Vince Ellis of Detroit Free Press:

“It’s time to shine, it’s time to do my thing,” Johnson said.

In a recent Bleacher Report article, Johnson explained that he now has a better grasp mentally on what it takes to succeed in the NBA.

From Yaron Weitzman of Bleacher Report:

“If you would have told me two years ago that I’d be averaging four points and three rebounds a game in the NBA, I never would have believed you,” he says. “Thing is, the NBA life is not the easiest life to live. Being a professional athlete is an everyday process, and it takes time to learn that.”

As far as his on-court production, Johnson expects to be more effective.  The reasoning for that could directly relate to the work that he’s put in with his longtime trainer Charlie Torres.  The only way Johnson could get Torres to leave his family for an extended period of time in order to fine-tune his game, he had to convince him that he’s serious about getting better.

Van Gundy is all for Johnson working out with Torres.  This summer Johnson and Van Gundy have consistently stayed in touch, and Torres can directly vouch for that.

“They had like a three-hour talk,” Torres says.

It seems as Van Gundy is putting a lot of stock in Johnson, and his expectations for the upcoming season have been set.

“Offensively, we’d like to see (Johnson) become more efficient by shooting a higher percentage and cutting down on his turnovers,” Van Gundy wrote to B/R in an email. “I see Stanley playing more at the small forward position this year after playing the vast majority of his minutes at the 2-guard spot a year ago. But he’s an extremely versatile guy—he can guard big 2s, 3s and even 4s. His versatility is a huge advantage for us.”

Featured Image: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

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