The Detroit Pistons spent the entire 2018-2019 season in obvious need of a small forward. After trading both Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson at the trade deadline in February, the Pistons were left with one true small forward on the team, Glenn Robinson III, who Dwane Casey scarcely used on a consistent basis. It is clear that they have a hole on the wing. But there is hope for the Detroit on that front. The Pistons own the 15th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and a slew of swingmen will be available at that draft slot for Detroit to choose from.
The best fit for Detroit, however, may be a prospect that would be considered a reach if selected at 15 in the first round. It’s not the flashy but risky Kevin Porter Jr., or the bucket getting Romeo Langford, yet rather a 23-year old that was not even the number one option on his own team.
Cameron Johnson, a 6’9” forward from the University of North Carolina has proven to be the best option for the Pistons in the first round. Johnson played five seasons of college basketball. His first three came at the University of Pittsburgh before he transferred UNC. Now, he is a projected first-round pick in the NBA Draft, and the Pistons should have Johnson at the top of their draft board come June 20th.
Last season at North Carolina, Johnson averaged 16.9 points per game while demonstrating a smooth game, with his shooting prowess flashing as the fulcrum of his offensive weaponry. He shot 55.6% from the field and a flamethrowing 45.7% from the 3-point line on 5.8 attempts per game. He made 96 3-point field goals while shooting the best percentage in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He had five games in which he made five or more 3-pointers in the game, and knocked down seven 3-pointers while scoring 27 points in a win against Wake Forest in February. Johnson’s shot is launched with ease and looks pretty coming out of his hands. His quick shooting motion allows him to get his shot off before the defense is able to react and close out on him. He is best as a shooter in catch-and-shoot or spot-up situations. According to Synergy Sports Tech, Johnson ranked in the 97th percentile in both spot-up situations as well as shot attempts in which he came off a screen. On dribble-handoff plays, he ranked in the 83rd percentile.
The gravity that Johnson would bring to Detroit’s offense would be extremely beneficial to mainly Blake Griffin, but also to Andre Drummond as well. Johnson is the best shooter in the draft without question, and dispensing him into a lineup with Griffin, Drummond, Reggie Jackson, and Luke Kennard, would give the Pistons a great deal of shooting on the outside. Teams would be unable to clog the paint against Griffin’s basket-attacking offensive style of play or Drummond’s down low orientated skillset without being hit by a barrage of 3-pointers from beyond. It would be a hand-in-glove fit, at least on that side of the court.
But he can do more than just catch and shoot. While he isn’t the most refined ball-handler, he was still able to put the ball on the floor and shoot it at a successful clip. He ranked in the 66th percentile on jump shots that came off the dribble. In isolation, he averaged .792 points per possession, which placed him in the 51st percentile. He wasn’t much of an isolation scorer at the college level, and he certainly won’t be used in that role in the NBA, but when called upon to score in isolation, he was still able to do so.
There is more to Johnson’s game than his ability to shoot and score the basketball. He takes advantage of his lengthy frame for a wing and is a very good rebounder for a small forward. He averaged 5.8 boards per game and possessed a ten percent rebounding percentage. He doesn’t watch the ball when another person is shooting. He is savvy when it comes to positioning himself down low for defensive boards or second-chance opportunities at the other end.
While he only averaged 2.4 assists per game, Johnson is a rather gifted passer for his position. His high basketball IQ allows him to make the right read whether it be in a half-court or transition setting. He won’t ever be a primary playmaker on offense, but he will be able to help as a tertiary distributor.
Defensively, Johnson is not a great defender, but he isn’t bad either. As with his rebounding, he knows how to use his length defensively, but he isn’t strong enough or athletic enough to be a real difference maker on that end of the floor. He’ll struggle against quicker wings because of his lack of speed and may also have his trouble against some combo forwards, but time in the weight room will help him in that regard. Not having an NBA level amount of body strength is a common flaw in a good amount of players who come into the league, but it is something that can be improved upon with the right conditioning.
Perhaps the biggest knock against Johnson is his age. He is already 23 years old, which takes some of the allure of selecting a young and undeveloped prospect in the draft away. His game is developed and he does not have the star potential of others in the draft. But for that being a reason that he was not on first-round draft boards coming into the season is flat out ridiculous. When it comes to being able to produce right away, Johnson is one of the most valuable prospects in the draft. Who cares that he is already 23? He is the best shooter in the draft, can play both forward spots, rebounds and passes well for his size, and is a smart basketball player. He will be conducive to winning from his first day in the league. Drafting for potential is dumb when a prospect of his caliber is on the board. Sure, players with high-level ceilings should be taken ahead of him, but for a player that seemingly has a pretty high floor, it’s crazy to me that Johnson probably won’t be taken until the early 20s in the first round.
Many would consider taking Johnson at 15 a questionable reach, but for a team that is trying to improve as cheaply and as quickly as possible while they have Blake Griffin playing elite basketball, calling Cam Johnson’s name on June 20th makes all the sense in the world for the Detroit Pistons.
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