Stanley Johnson turned some heads, and got into some heads, during the NBA playoffs this year. The other Stan, Stan Van Gundy, has it in his mind that Johnson needs to worry less about "playing" this summer and work more on his skills development.
Here's what Van Gundy had to say during Thursdays End of Season Media Availability.
Reporter: Kind of the same thing, you said a couple of weeks ago that Stanley really needs to hang his hat on defensive rebounding, but you weren't sure whether he was buying into it completely. Did the playoff experience, going through four games of banging with LeBron, did his rebounding...
Van Gundy: Well his rebounding has always been good. I think that he understands that defensively that...the summer for Stanley is really all about skill development. He's a tough, competitive guy. His focus defensively...you can't work on team defense and things like that in the summer very easily. What happens with a lot of these young guys, and Stanley and I talked about it, is they don't really get -- or haven't had -- summers where they could take an extended period of time and really focus on skill development. They're always playing AAU, then with Stanley - USA Basketball, then they have a summer where they're going to draft workout after draft workout after draft workout, and then right after that they're just going into Summer League - it's all about playing. 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. I don't even want him playing, quite honestly. I want him to stay away from the Drew League and playing one-on-one with his boys and all of that because with him, I know what happens - he wants to win that game. He wants to show well in that game. That's great. [But] What that does is drive you right back to your strengths and playing the way you've always played. He needs to change his approach in the offseason and really, really pay attention to his skills.
Reporter: You're saying that's a thing that you need to warn young guys, that they goes those two summers...
Van Gundy: I mean it's hard, right? It's all about showing. They're out there -- and unfortunately that's what AAU basketball has done. It's all about going out and competing against guys to say "can I move up from being the tenth ranked Junior in America to the sixth ranked Junior in America?". They're out there playing, they're not in the gym the way people used to be in the summers working on skills. It's all about going out and proving yourself. So a guy like Stanley, who's a great competitor, thrives on that. He's going to play hard, he's going to over power people. He goes on the USA Basketball teams, they win, he's the MVP of the tournament - the whole thing. But there's not an extended point in the gym where I can go work on something, and if I go in a shooting drill 3-for-20, it's not a big deal. I'm not having to prove myself. Unfortunately, the system has been every day those guys are proving themselves. I want him to take advantage of the fact that now, he's got a chance to improve his skills.
Reporter: We talked to Stanley the other day, as he was walking away, and we were joking about what we expect out of him in Summer League, and he said "They might not let me play." Do you guys have a joint decision that you gotta make whether...
Van Gundy: We've got to decide. And again, my only concern...Summer League can be really beneficial for him or anybody else. My concern, again, is I know Stanley's mentality and I want him working on things he needs to work on. I don't want to put him in situations where his concern is doing what he can do well right now to try to win that game. We've been through a season of that. He's got great strengths in terms of his competitiveness and his defense, being able to guard multiple positions and all of that. This is a skill development summer. What we'll have to decide, Jeff and I, before we make that decision, is that something that's going to aide in his skill development or not? That's all it will be based on. I don't need to see if Stanley's as good as the other guys in Summer League. We don't need to evaluate that. This is a summer of skill development for him. We will, at every step, try to do what's best for his skill development.
Reporter: He kind of proved that last summer anyways.
Van Gundy: Well that's my point. Competitiveness, and all of that, is never going to be a problem with him. He's gonna compete.
Bower: The biggest thing with young players, especially, is in order to improve they have to have to spend the time on the things they don't like or they don't do well. Because those are the biggest things to slow down their growth. In order to do that -- their instincts take over any time you're in a game situation -- the best improvement is day-to-day, repetition, repetition, repetition in an empty gym with a pin point focus on a particular skill or set of skills. Stanley's no different than the bulk of highly talented, highly rated young players coming into the league. They don't know until they get through their first year how much better they can be and how much better they would be if they added certain elements to their game. It's pretty hard to add a whole package, from year to year, but it is reasonable to have expectations to add one or two particular new elements to what you naturally do well now. When you're able to look at that over the course of a young player's development you've got a package put together by the time they've reached their third or fourth year in the league.
As much as I liked watching the highlight of Johnson and Andre Drummond in the Drew League last summer, I think I agree with Van Gundy and Jeff Bower. It would be nice for Stanley to work on his footwork. It would be nice for him to get his shooting percentages up (he was blocked less frequently than Drummond, slightly more than Jackson -- according to NBAMiner.com).
And I would love to watch Stanley go ham on the kids in Summer League, but if it affects his skill development, then I don't think it's worth it. We know the kid can play, now it's just fine tuning those skills and working on a few others.
What are your thoughts, DBB?