"It's only the Summer League."
I’ve repeated that phrase in my head close to a million times since watching Stanley Johnson’s dominating performance in the Orlando Summer League. Despite watching him play, seeing the numbers, and seeing how it affected his rookie ranking, there was still this little voice in the back of my head reminding me where he was playing. Could this just be another Summer League stud? Could this not be for real?
Nope. It was real. And despite the loss, Tuesday night’s preseason game was that type of statement for Stanley Johnson. That Summer League was for real, and that he plans on doing some things in this league.
Call it the hottest take. Call it me chugging the Kool-Aid Hypnowheel's been serving all summer. I don't care. I am all in on the Stanimal after Tuesday night. The Pistons rookie posted an impressive 26 points on 8-17 shooting and going 3-6 from the three-point line, along with three rebounds, four assists, and two steals. The lone cringe column being the six turnovers but then you’re reminded, he is only a rookie, and in his very first NBA preseason game.
I know what the typical reaction will be. Probably similar to the Summer League. "It’s only the preseason."
Sure, it is only the preseason. And it’s the Pacers, who certainly don’t look like the same team contending for the Eastern Conference title only a couple years ago. Still, this was a rookie debut (preseason) performance worth noting.
After the game ended, I scribbled down some notes on Stanimal and this was the first one: he let the game come to him. Sometimes you see a rookie look in over their head, or playing too fast. Neither was the case for Stanimal. Even when he was running the point for large portions of the game, where he didn’t look bad for large stretches. I wouldn’t say he looked comfortable, but most people who wear leather pants don’t look comfortable and still manage to pull them off.
Stanimal's diet was a healthy mix of transition buckets, taking open three-pointers when he had them (except for one rushed shot in the 3rd quarter), and if not, using his size to get to the rim. And man did I forget about that size. That combined with his smooth inside-out dribble move was a green light to the rim throughout the night. That will only last so long once scouting on him gets better, but it was encouraging to see him not afraid of charging into the paint and taking some knocks to get to the line.
When he did make mistakes (there was a bad turnover on a post move in the 2nd quarter) he didn’t beat himself up, he stayed in the game. The turnovers will need to be cleaned up, but I’m going to blame that on the preseason and on him handling the ball more than we would likely ask during the regular season. Oh and on that same turnover I mentioned above, he was the one exploding up the court after a Pistons rebound on the next possession for an easy layup.
By the third quarter, the DBB GameThread had turned into a coronation for Stanley Johnson. Starting lineup? Leading scorer? Rookie of the Year lock? Yeah we all went a little crazy, but that's why we say "it's only the preseason," right?
My favorite Stanimal moment wasn't even a highlight play. In the 4th quarter, with the Pistons down three and less than 24 seconds left, Stanley caught the outlet pass and looked to Big Stan (working nickname to differentiate the two) for instructions. Big Stan says push it, and Stanimal gets to the rim and draws a foul. While he missed the free throw, this moment spoke volumes of what the team, and fans hope to see out of the rookie Stanimal. Our first round pick was the one Van Gundy pushed to make the play, make the decision in a crunch-time moment, and he did not disappoint.
And despite the loss, I can't see Stanley Johnson disappointing Pistons fans much at all this year.