Stanley Johnson is tired of the word potential.
He talked about it during training camp and, quite frankly, most Pistons fans agree. Johnson enters a crucial fourth year needing to take the next step. When Detroit opens the season against the Nets on Wednesday, Johnson will again be in the starting lineup.
His coach, this time Dwane Casey, will expect production.
Will this be the year he puts it together?
Better yet, can he put it together?
Understanding Johnson’s road to this make-or-break season is, in many ways, like the Kübler-Ross model — more commonly known as the five stages of grief. This is how it goes with every young player that shows glimpses of big-time talent but never unlocks their full potential.
It all starts with denial.
We know Johnson isn’t going to be a star. That wasn’t really the expectation when the Pistons drafted him in 2015. Johnson looked NBA-ready coming out of Arizona, his confident demeanor served as an endearing trait.
The shooting breakthrough, or even break-even, has yet to come. The defense is a given, but the same offensive shortcomings that limited him as a rookie remain. Maybe there’s a slight jump as a playmaking wing, but Johnson may forever be more D than 3.
That’s still valuable. Look at Marcus Smart or, on a different level, Tony Allen.
The second stage is anger. You’re angry that Johnson hasn’t blossomed, sure, but you’re probably angrier that Myles Turner and Devin Booker exist. It’s maddening that they were taken so soon after Johnson, especially when you consider that the Pistons nearly picked Booker.
This generally sucks, I can’t really make you feel any better here. Sorry.
Next comes bargaining. You argue that things will get better. You wonder if Johnson is better as a small-ball forward than a pure small forward. Maybe this has been a humbling few years and it’s what pushes Johnson to another level.
Maybe you’re thinking, “If Justise Winslow can go from flop to $13-million man, so can Stanley.”
Depression is the next stage.
I would imagine most felt this in 2016 when Johnson fell into a sophomore slump. He was at his worst, in and out of Stan Van Gundy’s lineup, as the Pistons flopped and missed the playoffs. That feeling may have reared its ugly head again on opening night last season.
You know, the night Johnson played 40 minutes and missed all 13 of his shots.
Finally, we’ve got acceptance. Johnson has one season to prove he’s worth the Pistons’ time and investment. He’s been a solid player at times and, as much as it might kill some to hear it, maybe being “solid” is all it takes for him to find his place.
Johnson’s defense is always going to be worth a roster spot. He’s never going to be a 40 percent three-point shooter, but perhaps his newly-altered jumper leads to a mediocre 34 percent showing this season? That would be a boon for he and the Pistons. There’s a spot for guys like that.
So, is this the year he breaks out? Probably not. It may be the year he convinces the new regime in Detroit that he can help them win — now and later.
And, at this point, that would be a win for both sides.