After a season-long slump last season for Stanley Johnson, the critics were out on the now 21 years old small forward. Fast forward to the present day, and Stanley Johnson has catapulted to being Detroit’s most promising young piece albeit with their depleted pool of young talent.
Last season Johnson came off the bench behind Marcus Morris. With Morris traded to the Boston Celtics in the offseason for Avery Bradley, a void was left at the starting small forward spot. Head Coach, Stan Van Gundy, made the decision many had hoped he would: He placed third-year forward Johnson in the starting spot.
The first game of the season displayed what many had feared. Johnson took a large number of shot attempts and never made a single one. He ended the game 0-13 from the field. He finished the game with two points on two free throws. The most daunting number was Johnson’s shooting numbers from behind the 3-point line. He shot a discouraging 0-6 from the long line. Luckily, the Pistons handed the Hornets a swift defeat or Johnson’s play would have been even more criticized than it already was.
Johnson did endure worrisome struggles throughout the first half of the season, with the most strenuous struggles coming December. In 14 December games, Johnson shot just 30.4 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from the 3-point line.
Johnson was moved from the starting lineup in mid-December and then suffered injuries to the back and hip that kept him out for eight games.
Upon his return, however, Johnson has looked like a completely new player showcasing the potential he flashed during his rookie season. His second game back Johnson had his best game of the season up to that date. He scored 18 points on 6-11 shooting from the field in just 26 minutes. After a couple of dudful performances, Johnson turned things quickly back around and is back to playing solid ball.
Stanley Johnson breaks out the handles ‼ pic.twitter.com/JkmGpF52SL
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) March 1, 2018
February was Johnson’s best month of the season. He averaged 11.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. He shot a season-best 43.1 percent from the field and, for him, an okay 32.5 percent from the 3-point line.
Johnson has been moved to the bench as of late but is getting even minutes on the wing rotation with Reggie Bullock, Luke Kennard, and James Ennis.
While he has had some struggles during Detroit’s recent slump, as the majority of the team has, his play has been better as of late, which is very important.
Whether he is starting or is used as Detroit’s sixth-man, he possesses a ton of value to the Pistons. He’ll play 30 minutes a night either way and as an elite defender will contribute mightily even when the shot is not falling.
The offseason ahead is a crucial one for the Arizona product. The defensive tools are there for Johnson. But his offensive skillset is lacking and in desperate need of growth, specifically his jump shot. For him to reach his potential, he has to become a more consistent 3-point shooter. In seasons past players such as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, and Reggie Bullock have greatly improved their deep range stroke in between seasons. The Pistons need Stanley Johnson to make that same improvement. While he will never be a 40 percent 3-point shooter, getting as close to the league average of 36.2 percent would be an improvement that would help Detroit’s offensive spacing capabilities.
Johnson will turn 22 in the offseason. He is still super young and his potential is still sky high. He’s already a valuable player in the league today but his potential gives him the ability to be a two-way machine down the line.
While many have already given up on Stanley Johnson, his play is on the rise and he’s showing why he’ll be a problem in the NBA for quite some time.
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