Stanley Johnson: A favorable mismatch waiting to happen

Dec 23, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Stanley Johnson (3) in action against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 23, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Stanley Johnson (3) in action against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

Stanley Johnson has had an undeniable impact for the Detroit Pistons both on and off the court in just one year in the NBA, and there may be no limit to what he can accomplish if utilized correctly. 

Stanley Johnson has been widely criticized around the NBA for verbally challenging LeBron James in the Detroit Pistons‘ first round sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers. No stranger to speaking his mind, Johnson also put Kevin Durant in his place after he spoke derisively of the Pistons following a late-season defeat of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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In Johnson’s own words, “No one is afraid of Durant in this town.”

In spite of the league-wide skepticism of his outspoken tendencies, the city of Detroit loves it. Pistons’ fans love the attitude, the swagger, the fierce competitiveness.

A more focused Stanley Johnson was on display in the playoffs. There were few forced drives to the rim or contested shots. Johnson wisely picked his moments, shooting 52 percent from the floor and 60 percent from long range.

Johnson executed at a higher level in the playoffs than at any point in the regular season, but his defense was what drew him national attention. He played physical and effective body-to-body defense on not just James, but Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Johnson also brings an incredible level of versatility to the table. He stands 6’7″ and 245 lbs and has the athletic ability to be a defensive nightmare for opposing teams. This gives Stan Van Gundy the flexbility to switch Kentavious Caldwell-Pope off of quick perimeter players and Marcus Morris off of some of the stronger small forwards in the league.

However, Johnson does have weaknesses. He forces the issue when the play just isn’t there. His three-point shot was a developmental point of emphasis this offseason, but he shot just 30 percent from long-range in his rookie season.

Johnson is at his best when matched up on smaller defenders. Given his size, that’s not a hard matchup to find when he’s slotted at shooting guard.

This was demonstrated on February 4th when the New York Knicks came to the Palace of Auburn Hills. Johnson started at shooting guard in place of the injured KCP and put up an impressive line, finishing with 22 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals, one block and two turnovers on 7-of-12 shooting.

Due to being slotted at the two, Johnson was guarded by the comparatively diminutive Arron Afflalo. Afflalo stands 6’5″ and 210 lbs, giving Johnson an edge in both height and weight.

Johnson will be a key for the Pistons this season. After suffering for years with possibly the worst small forward and shooting guard corps in the NBA, the Pistons now have depth in the wings and can utilize them in a variety of fashions. The Pistons have power, length, size and athleticism in Johnson and Marcus Morris, and Johnson’s ability to slot down to the two can give the team a big edge when opposing teams play small shooting guards big minutes.

Stanley Johnson has all the tools to be “as good as a competitor there is in this league,” as Van Gundy states.

Johnson has great physical tools, a desire to be great, and a coach who will utilize his skills and versatility.

He also has a year of NBA experience under his belt. A season ago the game was just a bit too fast and complex for the 19 year old rookie. A year older, smarter and stronger, Johnson has learned a lot.

Next: Realistic expectations for Stanley Johnson

Pistons fans have a lot to look forward to in Stanley Johnson. He wasn’t the most hyped prospect in his draft class, but fans around the league are going to keep an eye on Johnson this season.