Entering Stanley Johnson’s 2017-18 season, one Detroit Pistons blogger wrote about how this season was a make or break type year for the third year pro, who came into the league with sky high expectations. After a roller coaster season for Johnson and the Pistons, that eventually lead to Detroit starting anew, the jury is still out.
One thing we do know, Johnson’s head coach for his entire NBA career, the guy who drafted him before Myles Turner, Devin Booker, and Terry Rozier, will no longer be in Detroit when he suits up for the Pistons next year. With Stan Van Gundy out of the picture, he’ll get a fresh start, with a new coach, who will hopefully unlock the potential we’ve seen glimpses of throughout his career. But this is a season review, not season preview; onward march.
The good news, Johnson’s production greatly improved from the 2016-17 season. He improved in almost every major counting stat, including points (8.7), rebounds (3.7), assists (1.6) and steals (1.4), per game. And he’s still Detroit’s best option as wing defender. He’s the only guy on the roster who has the ability to regularly match-up with the LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Paul George’s of the world.
The bad news, he struggled with consistency, both on a night to night production basis, and in regards to shooting and efficiency. He shot 38 percent from the field, and only 29 percent from three. And the Pistons regularly looked for him behind the arc, as he hoisted a career high 3.4 three point attempts per game. NBA Average is roughly 36 percent from three point land and 46 percent from the floor.
Johnson’s production and shooting numbers nearly mirrored his averages from his rookie season, which should be a cause for concern. He did improve last year, but maybe not as much as Pistons leadership (and soon to be new leadership) would have hoped. And while his offensive game is still a work in progress, at least at this point, it appears that he might not reach the 16-20 point per game type of player he was projected to be when he tore up Summer League his rookie season.
When the season started, it was clear that Johnson would be the fifth option in the starting line-up. Detroit had recently traded for Avery Bradley; darling of the offseason, finally realized that Tobias Harris was a better option than Jon Leuer, were focused on ensuring Reggie Jackson looked like Action Jackson early on, and decided to run the offense through Andre Drummond as decision maker and initial distributor.
Johnson’s role at this time? Sit, wait, hope something comes your way. He was tasked with hitting open threes when the ball eventually went his way, and he was never able to establish a rhythm in that line-up.
He shot 23-76 on all corner three point attempts this season, good for 30 percent. He was slightly worse from beyond the break, hitting 44 of 153 attempts (29 percent). Below you’ll see a glimpse of the opportunities Johnson typically saw as a spot-up option.
It was like SVG was yelling “Stanley, PLEASE SPACE THE FLOOR! Look at all of these threes we’re force feeding you!” And it didn’t work.
Stanley Johnson was at his best when he had the freedom to attack the cup, and create offense for others. He converted at a 59 percent clip in the restricted area last season, and via his efficient looks at the cup, was able to create some separation, and convert 35 percent of his mid-range jumpers (not great, but his second best area on the floor in terms of field goal percentage). Some samples below.
As noted earlier, Johnson had a roller-coaster type season. He started off the season poorly, and had a nagging hip injury that saw him miss a streak of games throughout December and January. But he bounced back in the month of February and averaged 11.5 points, while shooting 43 percent from the floor and 33 percent from three (almost league average!). The team boasted a +7.1 net rating when he was on the floor during this stretch. This was by far his best month, (other than the six games in April).
Johnson was best with the ball in his hands, not as a spot-up shooter. He illustrated flashes of his passing abilities throughout the season, having averaged three assists per game over the last nine games of the regular season, an area that you’d hope he’d continue to build upon this off-season, seeing how Detroit is still desperate to find another go-to playmaker not named Reggie Jackson.
Johnson turns 22 later this month. Had he stayed in college for all four years, he’d just now be entering the NBA draft. He still has time to improve on the offensive side of the ball, and perhaps Detroit’s new coach will be able to bring the absolute best out of him, while in a Pistons uniform. Don’t listen to those guys on the Detroit Bad Boys podcast. Don’t give up on Stanley Johnson.