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A move to the bench may have fixed Stanley Johnson

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The fourth year forward has found his groove since leaving the starting lineup. And it makes sense.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Stanley Johnson has needed to break out for a while now. With only 64 regular season games left on his Pistons contract, he’s needed to give them a reason to re-sign him at the end of the season. Since moving to the bench 10 games ago, he’s showing his value.

While it’s still early, the turnaround in his numbers have been dramatic - especially when you look at them per 36 minutes.

Starter: 9 points per 36 minutes, 35/25/80 percent shooting line, 5.8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2.9 turnovers, .9 steals

Bench: 19.4 points per 36 minutes, 47/37/75 percent shooting line, 6.4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.2 turnovers, 2.6 steals

Holy shit.

There’s a few clear indicators driving the improvement, and they’re certainly logical - which leads to hope that the improvement could be here to stay.

Getting to the rim

Playing next to Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, too often Stanley Johnson’s role on offense is as a spot up shooter. His effectiveness is tied to his three point shooting, which obviously has never been his strength.

As a starter, only 27 percent of his shots came at the rim. Since moving to the bench, that number has jumped to 47 percent.

Likewise, 60 percent of his shots as a starter were from three point range. 46 percent have been three pointers since moving to the bench. He’s also seen a nice uptick in his performance from three, going from 25 percent to 37 percent. But the important thing is that he’s more than just a three-and-D player, since he’s likely to thrive at only half of that role.

Since moving to the bench, he’s also leading the team with 2.5 fast break points per game - up from .9 points per game as a starter. He’s been a holy terror defensively, generating 2.6 steals per 36 minutes, which has opened up plenty of chances to turn defense into offense.

What’s particularly cool is that he’s actually able to finish these plays now! In the past those plays have looked, well, a bit like this:

Perhaps he’s finally healthy again, after being hampered by a hip injury at points last year. In the second group of clips, he wants to jump off both feet. But this season, he’s been comfortable jumping off one foot and still finishing through contact.

He still doesn’t have much in the way of elevation, but is at least able to use his speed and strength to get the job done.

Playing the four

Stanley Johnson at power forward has always been a tantalizing theory. We’ve seen it for the first time this season and so far it’s been even better than I would have hoped for.

It’s been less of a matter of adding another wing to spread the floor, but rather letting Johnson use his speed and ball handling to attack the rim.

Against a smaller defender, that play would often have resulted in the defender staying in front of Johnson, who resorts to a midrange pull up.

Particularly fun in that Rockets game was Stanley Johnson as point power forward:

Defense

It’s always been Johnson’s calling card, and it’s been even better as of late. He’s had a steal in every single game he’s come off the bench.

He also had a signature game, absolutely dominating Kawhi Leonard in the fourth quarter of the Pistons upset in Toronto.

(credit to Mike Snyder for those clips)

After years of “broken Stanley Johnson” jokes in the DBB comments, I loved seeing this:

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As DBBer amazenhazen would put it, Broken Stanley Johnson DELETED Kawhi Leonard and rendered him OBSOLETE.

It’s not the first time that Stanley has given reason for hope. He’s had other months where it looked like he’s finally figured things out, only to fall back to cluelessness on the offensive end.

But this latest stretch looks the most genuine. Hopefully he can keep it up.