Stanley Johnson Is Being Misused By Stan Van Gundy

When Stanley Johnson was drafted 8th overall by the Detroit Pistons, I didn’t know what to think. However, Johnson won me over immediately with his draft interview when he showed he had the Detroit attitude that is so widely loved.

He’s shown that Detroit attitude throughout his three-year career so far. He went at LeBron James his rookie year in the playoffs and didn’t back down. He’s strong, plays hard nose defense, and has a linebacker body type. A description that sounds perfect for the slashing playstyle.

Some seem to have disagreed.

Johnson showed promise his rookie year, as he was the 6th man on a playoff team. He averaged 8.1 points per game and 4.2 rebounds a game while shooting 37 percent from the field. From beyond the arc, he shot 30 percent, remember this specifically.

It was a struggle his sophomore year as he was yanked in and out of the lineup. Many were critical of Stan Van Gundy’s treatment of Johnson, but Johnson certainly didn’t help as it looked like his development stalled. He dropped to 4.4 points per game on 35 percent shooting. He still did not improve his three-point shooting as he shot WORSE than the year before, at 29 percent. Once again, remember this specifically.

His third year, this current year, was supposed to be his breakout season. SVG traded starting small forward Marcus Morris to Boston for Avery Bradley, leaving the 3 spot wide open for Johnson. Johnson did earn the starting spot, and the Pistons started out 14-6.

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Photo: Rick Osentoski

Editors Note: This was written prior to the Pistons three-game winning streak. Stats from this article are from December 12th and before. 

The Pistons are now 14-13 and it has somewhat to do with Johnson. In his last 5 games, Johnson has averaged 2.2 points a game while shooting a horrific 17 percent from the field and 10 percent from deep.

Johnson has been benched and replaced by Reggie Bullock in the starting lineup.

On the season Johnson was averaging seven points per game, on 35 percent from the floor and 29 percent from deep. Remember this specifically.

Of Johnsons seven shot attempts per game, 3.5 of them are threes.

Now, I’ve asked you guys throughout this article to remember a specific stat. Do you remember what it is?

I’ll tell you, it’s been his 3-point shooting.

So let me ask, why on God’s green earth is Johnson taking half of his shot attempts from a spot on the court he has never been good from?

For those who don’t watch the Pistons will ask, ” Why is he standing outside the three-point line then?” or will say, ” He should work his way inside then, he has the body to do it”.

I, Ku Khahil, will tell you it’s not even his fault. I am going to tell you it is Stan Van Gundy’s fault. I don’t think it’s very hard to understand why.

Johnson has never, ever, ever, ever exhibited that he was going to be a deadeye, spot up 3-point shooter. Instead, he’s shown flashes of being a slasher and a playmaker. After watching Johnson for three years I’ve seen he’s at his best when he either drives, or has the ball in his hands during a pick and roll.

Yet, this is the complete opposite of how he’s used for the Pistons. SVG literally has him stand in a corner or on the wing, expecting him to be strictly a 3-point shooter. He never gets the chance to run a pick and roll, and rarely does he get an opportunity to post up a smaller defender or drive to the rim.

Someone, anyone, explain to me how exactly Johnson is supposed to blossom if he’s being forced to do something that’s not his strengths? If you were a right handed shooter and I told you ” nah, for this team you have to shoot left handed” how successful would you be?

Now, obviously that’s a bit exaggerated but you get my point.

Coaches are supposed to put their players in the best position to succeed. They are supposed to play to their player’s strengths, instead of constantly and repeatedly putting their players in position to fail. Stan Van Gundy has done nothing close to the sort with Johnson, and then he punishes Johnson for not excelling at a weakness. There is a reason it’s called a weakness, after all.

If Van Gundy is not going to utilize Johnson in the correct way, it is time to trade him. At this point, I’m close to saying SVG is sabotaging Johnson’s career. He’s benched him, started him, benched him again, then sat him for multiple games, etc. SVG has treated Johnson like a Yo-Yo, while never putting him in a position to succeed.

Trade Johnson to a team where he can actually have a chance to succeed. He has the physical tools to be a good slasher. He’s shown that he’s good at orchestrating a pick and roll. He’s already a pretty good defender, the with the potential to be a great defender.

Keeping him in Detroit where you’re not putting him in spots to be successful, and then taking him out the rotation completely is purely sabotaging his career. I’m tired of hearing this “tough love” talk. SVG is embarrassing this guy nationally, and he’s getting a bad rep without getting the proper chance to defend himself.

Johnson, I believe, has a spot on this team. Those DHO’s that you run to Avery Bradley, that turn into a long Josh Smith two just about every time which you (SVG) seem to be fine with, run those to Johnson every now and then. Those backdoor cut plays you run towards Bullock, run them towards Johnson every now and then. When Johnson has a much smaller defender on him, let him use his 6’7,” 245lb body to post him up.

But under absolutely no circumstance do you continue to sit him the corner and try to force a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit. Does Johnson have to improve his three-point shot? Of course, he has to be able to spot up and at least be respectable. Even if SVG does the things I’m asking, Johnson will still find himself spotting up a lot of the time. He has to improve his shot from the beyond the arc.

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Photo: Elsa/Getty Images

But, playing to his strengths more so he can see the ball go in the basket will help his jump shot. People seem to forget that Basketball is just as much mental, as it is athleticism and skill. Putting Johnson in positions to use his strengths will make him more comfortable, and when you’re more comfortable everything you do is just free-flowing. You’re no longer thinking as you shoot the three, or feeling forced into doing anything. I don’t think it’s too hard for SVG to just mix in some DHO’s or cuts for Johnson along with his spotting up in the corner.

If SVG feels like it’s going to cause oh so much trouble to do so, then just get rid of Johnson.  If it is really such a headache to play to a players strengths, then just trade him. Give him a chance to blossom elsewhere, since it’s obviously not going to happen under your tutelage.

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Photo: Sports Illustrated

Stanley Johnson is full of potential, and will tap it one day. But, it won’t be under Stan Van Gundy.

And that will be Van Gundy’s fault.

Featured Image: NBA Photos/ Getty Images


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