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Stanley Johnson’s 0-13 shooting night: the Good, the Bad, and the well that’s OK

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It wasn’t quiiiiiite as ugly as the box score suggests. But then, it’d be tough to be that ugly.

NBA: Preseason-Detroit Pistons at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Last night was a historic evening for more reasons than just opening the new Little Caesars Arena with the first Pistons regular season game there. Stanley Johnson made a little history of his own with his 0-13 shooting night.

Stanley couldn’t buy a bucket. It’s a rough way for the third year player to open the season, especially needing so desperately to improve on his 45 percent true shooting percentage through his first two seasons.

And it’s also unfortunate because Johnson played a pretty decent game for the Pistons last night. He finished with a plus-minus of +6 thanks to playing some excellent defense and mostly blending in well with the starting unit.

But that shooting line is a cause for concern, especially as the team pulled out the win despite a 50 percent true shooting night. The Pistons could survive another rough shooting year for Johnson if the rest of the lineup was full of efficient scorers - but that’s not the case for this team.

So let’s dive into every shot Johnson took last night to see how the 21 year old might look moving forward.

The Good

My favorite thing I saw out of Johnson last night - even better than his defense - was his footwork in attacking the rim.

His jab steps in the first and third plays of that clip would have been traveling violations last year. Last night it let him easily get the corner on his defender and attack the rim. If Johnson is a player who spends his time on offense attacking the rim, he’ll be a good one.

Perhaps he should have hit an open Tobias Harris in that first play - I’d especially like to see him be a drive and kick type of player. But his shot was a good look.

In the second play of the clip, that’s awful close to a goaltending call against Dwight Howard on that block. More often than not, that call is going to go Stanley’s way.

Those first, second, and fourth looks for Johnson are ones that he has to take - and he’s typically been pretty successful knocking them down so far in his career. He’s shot 37 percent on corner threes and that final one was halfway down. We want Stanley taking those any time he can.

That third shot - whew. Maybe it was a pass to Andre Drummond? Let’s hope it was just a pass to Andre Drummond. Nothing wrong with taking that shot. But at this point, I’d prefer seeing Johnson offering a pump fake to Jeremy Lamb and attacking the rim.

One thing I’ve never been a fan of with Johnson’s shooting motion has been the way he kicks his right leg forward. In the past it’s been more of a corkscrewing action. It seemed like during the preseason when he shot 44 percent from three, his shot had more alignment - but it seemed to drift a bit last night. It’s worth continuing to keep an eye on his form, especially his lower half.

The Bad

The problem in all of these is that Johnson seems determined to get a shot up. In the first, he was way to deep from three and matched with a rookie who isn’t known for his defense. If he puts the ball on the floor instead of forcing a long three, he could put all sorts of pressure on the defense.

The other two were just long twos off screens. None of these are shots Johnson should be forcing at this point.

It goes to suggest that Johnson is still carving out his identify as an offensive player. And that he sees that identity as a scorer. That’s probably not going to be the best role for him, especially surrounded by so many other inefficient scorers.

Getting the ball on the floor, attacking the rim, facilitating to open looks for his teammates, combined with his terrific defense and Johnson serve as a the Pistons own version of Draymond Green. Johnson would just need to decide that passing is as much fun as shooting.

The Well That’s OK

The first play Johnson needs to get a shot off with the quarter winding down. He does a really nice job creating space to get the open look off - though his body rotates so much on that jumper, it’s amazing he’s able to get it on line. His lower half looks like he was throwing a discus rather than shooting a basketball.

In the second play, defenders all leave Johnson to return to their man. Preferably he wouldn’t have picked up his dribble so he wasn’t forced into an off balanced shot - but since he did, it was either take that shot or force a pass that would have likely been picked off.

For the third shot, it’s similar to his earlier airball. Perhaps this one should have been in the good and that one been here, but hey, this is a completely arbitrary exercise. But the same here, if Johnson pump fakes Lamb and heads to the rim, check out this lane.

Johnson lane

Chances are Howard take it away, but that will leave someone wide open - either Drummond for the lob, Reggie Jackson for the corner three, or Avery Bradley toward the top.

***

It doesn’t take grasping at straws to find a silver lining in Johnson’s ugly box score. He’s still figuring out his game and there were some genuine flashes of progress last night, especially when attacking the rim.

Though he took some shots he would have been better off tucking last night, it’s important that he keeps his confidence up. He’s been prone to some pretty ugly slumps that seem to create a snowball effect with his confidence. In fact, you could say he’s in the middle of one right now. He closed the final 21 games of last season shooting 27.6 percent. Add last night’s game to it, his last 22 games his field goal percentage is 25 percent now.

Remember that season where Rodney Stuckey started off 17-72 (23 percent) from the field? There’s no reason for Johnson to repeat that nonsense.

The most important part of Johnson’s game is his defense and his potential as a distributor. But still, it’d be nice to see him bounce back with a strong shooting performance tomorrow against Washington for confidence’s sake.