Stanley Johnson showed in his rookie year that even though he is only 19 years old, he was indeed NBA-ready mentally and physically. From the first day he put on a Pistons cap, he showed a confidence and competitiveness that belied his years.
And it wasn't just talk - he followed up on the court with those traits. The only issue was that his skillset was not yet NBA ready. But that's ok. Johnson at least showed enough flashes to allow for plenty of optimism that the ability to develop those skills is present.
There's the old cliche that you can't coach size. You also can't really coach mentality, and Johnson brings both the size and mentality. What you can coach is improving fundamental skills, such as shooting, footwork, or savvy for creating space and drawing fouls at the rim. That will be Johnson's task.
Remember in that movie Hitch the scene where Will Smith was showing Kevin James how to dance? Stanley Johnson's rookie year reminds me a lot of that dancing plot line. Johnson was at his most effective when he was keeping it right in here, you live right here, this is home. Don't need no pizza, they got food there. Elbows six inches from the waist, 90 degree angles.
When his touch time was under two seconds, Johnson's effective field goal percentage was 50.9 percent. From 2-6 seconds, 34 percent. He was great off catch and shoot opportunities, shooting 49 percent from the field. On pull ups, he shot just 32 percent.
But like James, Johnson just couldn't help himself. 46 percent of his shot attempts were from touches under 2 seconds, 47 percent came from 2-6 second touches. 27 percent of his shots were off catch-and-shoots, 32 percent off of pull ups.
Still, getting out of the elbows six inches from the waist, 90 degree angles mode could be what makes us fall in love with Johnson - just like it made that blonde lady fall for James.
Johnson has all of the tools to make those plays work. The ability to run the pick and roll, the size and physicality to create separation. He just needs to develop more touch, chemistry with his teammates, and experience. That's doable. But just like with James, none of it would work without his willingness to just go there.
Bucket list item: pull off Hitch reference on a DBB post, check. I don't care what y'all say, that's a good movie.
Getting out of the zone where he was most effective impacted Johnson's scoring efficiency and also made him more turnover prone, which were the two biggest factors in contributing to a lackluster line overall for the season.
Stanley Johnson's 46 percent true shooting percentage was the worst on the team among its regulars in the rotation. Heck, Josh Smith had a better true shooting percentage in his only full season in a Pistons uniform.
But injury likely also contributed to the struggles. After looking for his footing over the first two months of the season, Johnson impressed in January and February. He had a 19 game stretch where he averaged 11 points on 52.5 percent true shooting along with 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Then a sprained shoulder cost him seven games and he never looked the same afterwards.
Over the final 16 games of the season he averaged 5 points on 29 percent shooting and was thoroughly outplayed by Reggie Bullock.
Johnson did at least bounce back with an excellent, and entertaining, playoff showing. The rookie relished going toe-to-toe with the best player of the current generation in LeBron James, putting on a pretty good show both on the court and behind the microphone. He also taught us a new word, fugazi. It means fake, apparently.
He averaged 8 points per game and was knocking down his shots, along with playing some stout defense on LeBron James.
After a lackluster game one, LeBron flipped his switch to go into his unstoppable mode with 27 points. Johnson pointed to a shoulder bump from James to suggest that he was in LeBron's head, though most commentary pointed to the scoreboard to suggest that Johnson was full of it. But despite strong play from James in that game, LeBron acted like a fool on the court with shenanigans like this, this, and this.
Yeah, Johnson is just a 19-year-old rookie who had an up-and-down season. But LeBron is one of the best players in the history of the league, acting like that after being challenged by a 19 year old rookie. And as far as the scoreboard goes? James finished the series averaging 21 points on 39 percent shooting.
At the end of the day, Johnson showed enough of a ceiling to require a recalculation of the team's ceiling. He finished in the top 10 in his rookie class in points, rebounds, and assists. Only Karl Anthony-Towns and Justise Winslow shared that accomplishment. There are not many players at his age who show proficiency in so many areas of the game.
Sure, he also finished 22nd in win shares in his class. But a 19 year old without any warts is a guy who is on his way to becoming a superstar.
Johnson's ceiling and the speed he's able to develop into a plus player is perhaps the biggest factor in determining the Pistons' potential window as contenders. It's tough to tell exactly what that ceiling might look like, both for Johnson and the team.
After Johnson's strong Summer League performance, some might be a bit disappointed with his season, building Rookie of the Year hopes or expectations. But it's rare that a wing lights the league on fire as a rookie, and even more so for a teenage wing to do so.
As Stan Van Gundy put it, Johnson needs to focus on building his skills this summer. SVG said it best:
This is a first time for him. He's got months here where it's not about going out and competing and showing that you can kick somebody's ass and everything else. He's got all of that competitiveness. What he doesn't have right now are NBA skills at the level that he needs them. He needs to improve his shooting, his footwork, his ball handling. He has to go and work on those things for months and months and months and improve his skill level to match his competitiveness. It's great that you want to go out there and compete, but you need the skills to be able to do it. And at this point, he doesn't have them at the level that he needs them. I don't say that as a negative. He's 19 years old. But it's got to be an extreme focus on skill development.
Listen to Stan, Stan. If Johnson can pull off that skill development, he will take some big steps forward. And the already bright future of this team will immediately start looking even brighter.