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2015 Pistons Preview: Stanley Johnson can be Stantastic!

Not lacking confidence, Stanley Johnson is backing up his words with his play. Will it carry over into the regular season?

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons have been lacking in the small forward department, talent-wise, over the last six years. Caron Butler, Luigi Datome, Cartier Martin, Tayshaun Prince, Kyle Singler, Shawne Williams, Austin Daye, Old Man Corey Maggette, Damien Wilkins, and DaJuan Summers have all manned the spot over that time frame. Am I missing anyone? Anyone? Ok, good, didn't want to leave any SMALL FORWARDS out of that list.

Well, a new day is upon us. While the Pistons traded for Marcus Morris this offseason, they also drafted a hot prospect named Stanley Johnson. Some think Detroit made a mistake passing on Justise Winslow for Johnson. Well to them I say fooey! So far, combining Orlando Summer League and preseason, Johnson is looking like the right pick.

College, Summer League and Preseason Review

The University of Arizona has been known to turn out some respectable basketball players. Thirteen have won NBA championships. Notable names include Leon Wood, Sean Elliott, Brian Williams, Damon Stoudemire, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Richard Jefferson, Gilbert Arenas, Andre Iguodala, and, of course, Golden State's Interim Head Coach Luke Walton. Prior to this year's draft, the Pistons have drafted five Wildcats. Well, the Wildcat they drafted this year, he is something special.

Stanley Johnson went to the Wildcats having just coming off winning his fourth straight state championship. He was coming to a school that was returning four of their starters. He was only 18 years old. What is he going to be able to contribute?

Being the only freshmen starter, Johnson lead the Wildcats in points per game and was second on the team in rebounds, steals and free-throw attempts. It did not come without some criticism, however. He was the third worst shooter, percent wise, of the nine consistent rotation players yet he shot the most. Many blamed this on his low release point, a stigma that followed him all the way to the draft.

Johnson was able to lead the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament where they lost in the fourth round to eventual NCAA Tournament runner-up Wisconsin Badgers. His play in the tournament did not help his draft status. He shot even worse than he had in the regular season. People started to really question if he would be able to hold his own in the NBA.

Then the 2015 NBA Draft happened, and Stan Van Gundy shocked the world Chad Ford. The Pistons, with the eighth pick in the draft, had their dream scenario happen. They had presumably the two best small forwards available: Winslow and Johnson. Winslow had received a lot of attention starring for the champion Duke Bluedevils. Van Gundy, making his decision based on the interviews and workouts as much as their college resumes, decided to go with Johnson over Winslow.

Not even a week later we got to see our first glimpse of Johnson in Summer League and he did not disappoint. In Orlando he was fourth in scoring with 16.2 points per game on a shooting line of 57.7/41.7/59.3, the free-throw shooting being his biggest blemish. He was also collecting 6.8 rebounds, two assists, 1.8 steals and one block per game. That was among all Orlando Summer League participants.

So far in the preseason, Johnson has continued to impress but has slowed down some. In his first game, he had a stat line of 26 points, three rebounds, four assists, and two steals in 34 minutes on a shooting line of 47.1/50.0/77.8. He made three of his six three-point attempts and got to the line nine times. So far in the preseason, he has averages of 13.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.3 steals. He is shooting 39.4 percent from the floor, 44.4 percent from distance on three attempts a game, and 81.8 percent from the free-throw line.

He is second amongst rookies in scoring this preseason. After shooting 46.4 percent from the field in his first two preseason games, he shot 34.9 percent in the following four. Johnson's minutes have dipped the last three preseason games, partially due to fouls. Averaging just over two fouls a game in his first three games (and just over 30 minutes per game), he has averaged just under four fouls per game the last three (and just under 26 minutes per game).

If we dip into the realm of advanced stats, Johnson is doing just fine there. For all rookies playing 20 minutes or more (19 rookies qualify), he is seventh in offensive rating, ninth in defensive rating, and seventh in net rating. He is eighth in assist percentage, seventh in rebound percentage. He is tenth in efficiency field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, and fourth in usage. He is also sixth in PIE, which is Player Impact Estimate which shows the estimated percentage of a game that player has impacted. It should be noted that the five players above Johnson in PIE play for Minnesota, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago.

I took the liberty of combining the Summer League stats and Preseason stats for all rookies who have played in the Preseason to see where Stanley ranks there. Johnson ranks second in points per game and fourth in points per 36 (minimum of 20 minutes per game). He is thirteenth in rebounds per game and 17th in rebounds per 36 (minimum of 20 minutes per game). He is eighth in field goal percentage, third in three-point percentage, but 28th in free throw percentage (all with a minimum of 20 minutes per game). In regards to free throw percentage, if you add the filter of at least three free throw attempts per game, he is 13th, but that is only out of 21 qualified rookies.

2015-16 Projected Production

For any rookie, this is tough to gauge. This is due to not being sure how many minutes the rookie will play. This becomes even more difficult for Johnson because he has the chance to be the starter but will at the very least be the first backup at the small forward position.

So far through preseason, Johnson has played five more minutes per game than Marcus Morris. Morris, though, is shooting 50 percent from the field and 92.9 percent from the free-throw line. The only shooting advantage that Johnson has over Morris is at the three point line where he's shooting 44.4 percent on three attempts per game and Morris is only shooting 25 percent on two attempts per game. Johnson does get more rebounds than Morris and has distributed the ball better (he also had the ball in his hands more by playing point guard some).

Regardless of if Johnson starts the season or not, he will likely command at least 25 minutes per game. Hopefully, he can keep his three-point shooting up as that was a concern. What he does need to get better is choosing the shots he is best at. In six preseason games, he is shooting 63.6-percent within five feet of the basket and 44.4-percent from three. Everywhere else, however, he is only shooting roughly 25.6-percent (includes 4-for-9 from 20-24 feet). Those constitute 56.5 percent of his shots. On jump shots that are not three pointers (as defined by, he is 3-for-22, or 13.6-percent. With better shot selection, Johnson would be killer.

But we have to remember that he is a 19-year-old rookie. He is still adjusting to the NBA's pace and scheme. He will need time to develop. It is on Stan Van Gundy (and Dave Hopla) to show Johnson where he is best and put him in plays that can maximize his best attributes. But Johnson needs to be receptive (no evidence he is not) and apply what he learns. If he does what he's supposed to, Johnson could very well challenge for Rookie of the Year votes.


27 minutes per game, 11 points shooting 42/38/80, 3.5 rebounds, 1.2 three pointers