2018-19 POP Preview: Stanley Johnson has a Critical Season Ahead

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Stanley Johnson has underperformed under Stan Van Gundy, but a change to Dwane Casey and a boost of confidence may be what he needs. Image: Aaron Doster/USA Today

This is a big year for Stanley Johnson. It is worth starting off this 2018-19 preview with that because it is incredibly important for the rest of this piece. The Detroit Pistons selected Johnson so high because he was seen as a difference-maker in the making. A defensive stalwart at the University of Arizona who could envelop into a starting small-forward that other teams would dread going up against. The offensive side was raw even in college, but malleable for then-head coach Stan Van Gundy.

Half of that was true.

Defensively, Johnson is strong. He plays tough and can guard multiple positions. That is incredibly important in today’s NBA, especially with the amount of switching that happens. He has not approached the type of clamps exhibited in the first round of the 2016 playoffs on LeBron James, but he is more than respectable. He averages more than a steal per game and has the length to clog passing lanes and make things difficult. Detroit has, and should, trust Johnson with his defense.

However, he still looks more like Tony Allen than Kawhi Leonard. Maybe Robert Covington is a better example than Leonard. Oh well. And that is no slight to Allen, who carved out a niche role on some excellent playoff teams. There nothing wrong with being a defensive stalwart. But the Pistons expected more of Johnson after being draft eighth-overall.

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The point is the offensive-side of the ball not only remains a mystery, but a downright travesty. Stanley Johnson has never shot better than 37.5 percent from the floor and never better than 30.7 percent from behind the 3-point line. And both of those numbers came in his rookie season. His offensive rating has actually improved every season, but that could help the argument for those who choose not to put much stake into that statistic. Johnson cannot be counted on offensively, and it is a major detriment to his (and the Pistons’) ceiling.

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That being said, he has the vote of confidence from new head coach Dwane Casey. That says something, and hopefully, it is inspiring enough for Johnson to kick himself into gear on offense. He is by no means guaranteed a starting spot on this team, competing with more complete players like Luke Kennard, Reggie Bullock, and newcomer Glenn Robinson III. All have one thing in common: they are capable shooters. And with bigs like Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, having adequate spacing is going to be essential in ensuring team success.

So why is this a big year forJohnson? Well, the Pistons have gone all-in on winning now. They do not want to wait for Johnson to potentially transform into the team’s small forward of the future. He has a $5.31 million qualifying offer available to him next season before becoming a restricted free agent. That money could be used to solve other areas of the team’s woes, so Detroit may have a decision to make on their high draft selection. If Johnson fizzles and cannot contribute enough on both ends, the Pistons may not keep him. Seems ridiculous to give up on a player before his 24th birthday, but the NBA moves quickly and windows to compete for a playoff spot sometimes close just as fast as they open.

Hopefully, Stanley Johnson uses the confidence from his coach to elevate his game to new heights. He is still very young and can adjust his game, though there has not been anything that shows he is capable of that.

(Featured Image: Mike Mulholland/MLive

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