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Pistons signature play: The Stanley Johnson pullup

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Johnson’s developing some savvy off the dribble.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been an up and down year for Stanley Johnson’s sophomore season in the NBA. But one of the bright spots is that there have been some clear steps forward for him on the offensive end.

Yes, he’s not scoring as much as last season. But the important part is that he’s taking steps to learn how to be efficient in the NBA, a key piece of progress for the 20 year old. One of those aspects has been improving his scoring inside the the three point line from 41 percent last season to an approaching-respectability 45.4 percent this year.

A major factor for that has been Johnson’s pullup jumper. Last season, despite some reasonably solid numbers at the rim, he struggled with getting his shot blocked. He wrote about it over the summer, saying:

That’s the move you pull out of your deck like a pair of aces. That move for me was my ability to get into the lane and finish above the rim.

But boy was I wrong about being able to use it.

About 25 games into the season, I realized that the one move that had always been so easy for me to pull off was now hard as hell.

Like really hard.

This is the NBA. There are so many athletic players who — even when you think you’ve got a step on them, they’re right next to you. When I was at Arizona, the lane was my home. If I had a step on you, I was going to the rack. No question. But after my first couple games in the league, the lane was looking slimmer almost weekly. I couldn’t finish in the lane like I had in the past.

So Johnson has adjusted by leaning heavily on a pull up jumper rather than attacking the rim as much - for better and for worse.

We’ll start with the better. Johnson is currently shooting 51.5 percent from 8 to 16 feet, better than any other range on the floor (which is again for better and for worse). That compares to just 31 percent for last season. Incorporating that element into his game makes him less reliant on the spot up three and lets him put his solid ball-handling to good use.

For instance, here he attacks the closeout and creates space while also avoiding having to finish in traffic:

It’s become a really nice weapon on the pick and roll, which he’s been much more successful in operating this season (shooting 51 percent on pick and rolls, up from 33 percent last year):

He’s even figuring out how to use his strength to his advantage with it:

And incorporating it as a fallback option:

But the problem is that he’s becoming perhaps too reliant on his jumper, too hesitant to take the ball all the way to the rim.

Out of Johnson’s 161 field goal attempts this season, 136 have been jump shots - converted at just 37.5 percent. He’s had only 20 layups and just one dunk. Inside 8 feet, he’s shooting just 44 percent. So that’s just 12 percent of his shots coming from layups and dunks this year with 84 percent coming from jumpers, compared to 71 percent coming from jumpers last season and 26 percent as layups and dunks.

He’s struggled to finish in traffic with a traditional layup, generally resorting to attempting to create space and finish with more of a hybrid pullup jumper. It’s not been particularly effective, too often remaining an easily blocked shot:

Compare that play to mophatt1’s look at Tobias Harris finishing with his off hand from yesterday. Johnson and Harris are nearly the same height, have the same length wingspan, yet Harris finishes in those clips as though he has an extra foot size advantage over Johnson.

Johnson’s hesitancy to take the ball to the rim aggressively has also left him with a tendency of having to force tough looks:

Johnson’s offense will continue to be a work in progress, and the next important step will be to increase his comfort attacking the rim. That’ll give him the opportunity for more high percentage shots and trips to the free throw line.

With his strength advantage and 6’11 wingspan, the tools are there for that development. It should just be a matter of experience.

One of the more tantalizing aspects of Stanley Johnson as a prospect is his versatility. His ball handling, his passing, his rebounding, his scoring instincts, his already solid defense. This development in his offensive game represents an important step forward in him fulfilling his potential.