We should all be rooting for Stanley Johnson to succeed moving forward. He owns all the crucial features to be not only a fan favorite but a staple of this team and on a larger scale the city of Detroit. With Marcus Morris shipped off to Boston, it’s time for Johnson, now entering his third year, to leave his mark on this team.
Defensively, he still gets lost on too many team concepts but can hold his own checking twos and threes throughout the league. Defense was his calling card coming out of college and remains so today.
Offense, however, is a completely different story.
Watching Johnson play without the ball on the offensive end I found myself yelling the same thing over and over and over again:
The higher the level of basketball the more the court shrinks due to the sheer athleticism of its participants and it’s on the youngsters to adapt or die. Things that were open in college won’t be open in the NBA. For any hoopster, the read-and-react part takes some getting use to and for many it never happens. Let’s hope that’s not the case with Stanley.
Keep in mind, the lack of off-ball movement isn’t just an SJ7 problem; it’s a team-wide epidemic and anyone could easily pick apart Pistons’ perimeter players for their lack of elementary movement.
Per Synergy, only three teams finished with fewer possessions ending in a cut play-type. And it’s a shame, too, because when they did cut their PPP was at a crisp 1.294, good for ninth in the league during 2016-17.
For reference sake, the golden (pun intended) standard of movement is an easy guess as the Golden State Warriors scored a league high 1485 points via the cut, the Washington Wizards were at 15th scoring 821 points while the Pistons sat 27th logging 642.
Of those 642 Pistons’ points, seven came from Stanley Johnson.
Yes, seven points. ALL YEAR.
You almost have to try to score that few points. For a player with such bouncy, young legs and that fleet-of-foot, seven points is darn near a tragedy.
Let’s take a look at how we can slow things down and make life easier for Stanley Johnson and in turn, the Pistons.
Boys and girls of all ages when the defense gives you this look, it’s a backdoor cut all day every day:
As Hank Ellenson attacks the elbow he draws the attention of Ben McLemore which should cue Johnson to CUT! backdoor to the hoop as there is nothing but real estate in front of him. Instead, Johnson kills the spacing giving McLemore the gracious opportunity to simultaneously deter Ellenson from driving and keep Johnson in his sight.
In my day, it was Steve Nash who - while keeping his dribble alive - made the baseline a second home prodding the defense and waiting for cutters. In today's game, Goran Dragic does a pretty good impression:
Dwyane Wade added a savvy cut to his game as he got older and in this case he found Hassan Whiteside for the finish.
Now, let us watch the Pistons' version:
There is a point where all ten defensive eyeballs are on Ish Smith and hands up indicating ‘I’m open’ is effective but you wanna know what’s better?
Could’ve been the exact same result as Wade/Whiteside or at the very least a preferred shot other than a prayer three-point attempt.
Tobias Harris loves to drive to the left:
Doing so rightfully attracts the attention of the defense. The kick-out pass sets up a decent look for Johnson but you know what would be better?
Johnson’s affection for the spot up is a disservice to basketball ease. We don’t have to travel far to see what a CUT! would look like:
Below is a CUT! away from being great player and ball movement:
The instant Drummond is rolling towards the rim is the exact moment Johnson should make his move. Doing so would’ve made CJ Miles (already switched and scrambling) commit to Johnson faster and no weakside defense on planet Earth is quick enough to rotate and stop a bang-bang Johnson to Drummond alley oop from there. Instead, we get a Johnson spot up.
Here is a great view of not-a-CUT!:
As Ish Smith effortlessly splits the defense and reaches the paint Denzel Valentine must come over to stop penetration. It’s a bucket eventually earned the hard way as an attacking CUT! would’ve saved a helpless shoe from bouncing off my tv.
Semi-transition is no different:
Again, Valentine must help and again Johnson doesn’t take full advantage. A CUT! down the baseline almost surely would’ve resulted in free throws, an easy bucket for Stanley or Jon Leuer. Instead....well, you know the drill by now.
The window closes just as fast as it opens and Johnson must start to recognize action before it happens. Below, as Harris starts to punish a smaller defender a predictable double-team is sent:
This is the exact sequence that must be sniffed out in advance. From there, act accordingly. CUT!
Above, the defense lazily point-switches and Johnson either fails to read or fails to react. As Ish Smith replaces Stanley’s spot, E’Twaun Moore calls for a switch passing Smith off to Tyreke Evans. This leaves a wide open avenue for Johnson to CUT! off the ass of Moore. He ends up with an adequate drive but again, we’re looking for great shots not good ones.
When a defense off-ball point-switches this should be the immediate reaction:
We can dream can’t we?
Most of the above is slyly exploiting to what the defense gives you. Stan Van Gundy and Stanley Johnson know this but the application of this knowledge is falling short. The spot up will always be there but the Pistons must make the defense work more.
Do you have to CUT! every single time? Of course not, but Stanley Johnson is a 30 percent career three-point shooter and settling for a spot up - as of today - isn’t a winning play. You create better shots for yourself through what you do without the ball than through what you do with the ball.
The least-appreciated part about the CUT! is what it does for teammates. Watch what even a Sunday-walk-at-the-park tempo CUT! can do:
Morris cuts, draws the defense, Johnson replaces and is wide-the-F open.
Basketball is an easy game if you let it be. Stay tuned for part two.