When the Sacramento Kings selected Willie Cauley-Stein with the sixth pick in the NBA draft I thought for sure Justise Winlsow would be a Detroit Piston.
Hours before the draft I thought Winslow would be the elite prospect that fell which is one of the reasons why I mocked him to the Pistons in my mock draft. I knew Mario Hezonja would be a guy that teams would fall in love with and I thought Cauley-Stein just made too much sense for the Kings to pass up. I also surmised that Winslow’s size and offensive skill-sets would turn some teams off that were drafting ahead of the Pistons and looking for a small forward–particularly on the offensive end where his handles and in-between game are severely lacking.
I never factored into the equation that Stan Van Gundy would like Stanley Johnson more than he’d like Winslow.
I liked Johnson a lot–way more than most–I think his upside is all-star and his work ethic is elite. But I also thought Winslow had the same type of upside (maybe just less) with less risk–much less. Winslow also offered one elite trait on the court–defense–which is one more elite trait than Johnson had on the court.
At first, I really didn’t see how Van Gundy could justify drafting Johnson over Winslow. But for the same reasons I thought Winslow would drop is why I think Van Gundy ultimately decided to go with Johnson. Winslow may be end up being better suited to play shooting guard. Sure he guarded post players frequently in college which shows his defensive versatility, but defense is only one side of basketball. Offensively Winslow has much farther to go than Johnson. To this point Winslow is a spot up shooter and can get to the basket. Johnson can do the same, but he also offers a nice mid-range game and two dribble pull up.
Shooting off the dribble and shot creating is tough. Neither player can claim to be excellent shot creators, but Johnson has shown the ability and there’s hope he can perfect that area of his game. Winslow on the other hand shot just 26.9 percent on his two point jumpers, floaters, and pull-up jumpers. In comparison Johnson went 41.7 percent from the same range. He was also less of a free throw shooter (64 percent to Johnson’s 74 percent).
It’s likely Van Gundy factored all of these things into the equation and projected Winslow–like other teams drafting ahead of the Pistons–would be better suited to play against smaller guards that he can bully to the rim.
Winslow’s defense is stifling–he’s the best on ball defender in the draft. But Johnson is no slouch in that area either–he actually averaged slightly more steals than Winslow (1.5-1.3) and their blocks per-game are comparable too (Winslow’s .9 to Johnson’s .5). Johnson’s 245 pound frame against Winslow’s 220 also suggest that he’s more adapt to guarding power forwards should the Pistons choose to use him in such a way.
It’s hard to say conclusively why Van Gundy chose Johnson over Winslow. Could he have zeroed in on Johnson, because he didn’t think Winslow would be there? Possibly, but Van Gundy had boxes he wanted to check off going into the draft. One of which was an off-the-dribble scorer and that’s something that Johnson offered that Winslow clearly didn’t.
I’m not mad that the Pistons selected Johnson. He’s got a ton of upside–a view-point shared by many before the NCAA tournament where his draft stock suddenly plummeted.
I still think Winslow was maybe ‘safer’ in that his floor was higher than Johnson’s because of his elite defense and consistency on that end every night. However, Johnson probably has the higher ceiling with his farther advanced offense and greater size.
There are arguments for both players and both have a chance to be really good.
We’ll have to wait to see which player ends up being better.