In Dwane Casey’s rather hinting interview with ESPN’s First Take before he was hired, one of the players to come up on the Pistons roster was Stanley Johnson.
Dwane Casey on Stanley Johnson: “This is a big year for him, a make or break year for him.” Casey thinks highly of Johnson’s potential, wants to help Johnson figure out his jump shot.— Aaron Johnson (@AJohnsonNBA) June 12, 2018
: The Stephen A. Smith Show pic.twitter.com/JiwEV1kky6
He’s definitely right on both parts. Heading into his fourth season, it’s a make or break year for the small forward and his jump shot will certainly be a big part of his making or breaking.
There’s reason for optimism with Dwayne Casey’s arrival, thanks to his work with OG Anunoby in his excellent rookie season.
Anunoby came out of Indiana with a similar profile to Johnson. Both were wings with solid size and athleticism, but looked to make more of their impact on the defensive end early while being a work in progress offensively early in their careers. But Anonoby was surprisingly solid as a rookie offensively - especially coming off a college career where he averaged just 6.8 points per game.
Much of what led to Anunoby’s success looks like it could be replicable for Johnson.
53 percent of OG’s three point attempts came from the corner. He shot 45 percent on them. A whopping 57 percent of Anunoby’s shot attempts were three pointers. In pointing to reasons for Anunoby’s rookie success, this is the place to start.
OG wasn’t a good shooter at IU. Under Tom Crean, Indiana was one of the most prolific three point shooting teams in the country. Yet Anunoby averaged just 1.5 three point attempts per game. He was up to 2.8 attempts per game in his sophomore season, but shot just 31 percent on them.
Johnson actually looked like the more promising prospect from a shooting perspective. He shot a higher percentage and a higher volume. Free throw shooting can also be indicative of three point shooting potential and Johnson was far better from the stripe (74 percent to 52 percent).
Of course, that hasn’t translated to the NBA. Johnson’s jumper has gone through varying forms of ugliness and he’s shot just 29 percent from three. But the corner three has shown potential. In his rookie season, 40 percent of his attempts came from the corner and he connected on 38 percent of them. But he’s gravitated away from the corner in the past two years and his three point percentage has dropped in each season.
But you don’t get to 53 percent of your threes coming from the corner without being intentional in it, and it looks like Casey makes a point of getting his wings there.
As Mike Snyder showed, Casey used a lot of drive and kick to open things up on the corner. This is a spot Johnson can be successful.
Abandonment of midrange
Like Andre Drummond, Johnson is a player who could benefit from tightening up his game to focus on where he’s most successful rather than trying to do too much.
Check out OG Anunoby’s shot chart compared to Stanley Johnson’s:
Over the course of the season, OG took 12 shots from between 5 and 19 feet. Johnson took 152. He made just 51, good for a 33.5 percent field goal percentage - and those are a bunch of two point attempts where there’s little chance at drawing a foul. Those are bad shots.
By contrast, when OG put the ball on the floor, his goal was to get to the rim. He wasn’t always successful, but he was physical. In college Anunoby did his damage inside the arc, where he shot 65 percent for his career. That translated to the NBA where he shot 60 percent from two. He’s athletic, attacks the rim quickly, and is a good finisher.
Johnson...isn’t Anunoby on that front. OG certainly has more vertical explosiveness than Stanley, but Johnson is capable. I remain convinced that much of his struggles at the rim in the first half of last season were due to injury even though the numbers don’t support the opinion. Johnson shot 55 percent from inside five feet last year and was actually better close to the rim before the All Star break than he was after. And his 2016-17 number was 54 percent. I do have some numbers to support the theory, but this one admittedly has a shaky foundation from a statistical perspective.
Still, here’s why I think it. The ugly attempts to finish where Johnson looked to diminish as the year went on.
I really like watching film on Johnson. He’s a tough player, the type of guy who is the reason I cheer for the Pistons. When he’s locked in, he does so many little things that slip under the radar and really adds value to the team. But here’s Johnson’s shots from November 15 to January 10 inside 18 feet. Watch at your own peril.
That latter version just seemed much more capable of finishing through traffic and making life easier for himself. I think after missing time in mid-November with a bum hip that it impacted him up until he took an extended break in early January. Though his finishing numbers were still ok, my thought is that he was feeling physically limited and settled for pull ups too much rather than trusting his athleticism to attack the rim. (But honestly, if I tried to show numbers behind that, it’d definitely be some cherry picking stuff.)
Which brings us back to the title of this section. Johnson tends to lean way too heavily on his pull up jumper. When that happens, it’s usually an indication that he doesn’t trust himself to be able to finish at the rim.
That’s not something you saw with Anunoby. If he was in the paint, he was attacking the rim. However much of a role Casey may have played in that, the more Johnson takes that approach, the better.
DeMarre Carroll, a cautionary tale
OG’s predecessor at small forward was the Raptor’s 2015 free agency splash, DeMarre Carroll. Two years into his $60 million deal, the Raptors sat out of the 2018 draft in order to get rid of him, sending their first and second round picks to Brooklyn in the dump.
Physically, well, Johnson might have more in common with Carroll than Anunoby. The two share a similar height, thicker build, and, if I’m wrong about Johnson’s woes being due to injury, athleticism. Yeah, it’s a bit concerning when you’re comparing your 22 year old forward with a 31 year old, but we don’t need to get into that.
In theory, Carroll should have been a great fit with the Raptors. He was a 39 percent three point shooter in Atlanta and was excellent in the corner. He was efficient and effective in low usage inside the arc. He sorta shares a name with the team’s shooting guard. What’s not to like?!
Unfortunately all of that didn’t really stick. In year one he was mostly injured and was lousy from two. In year two his jumper was inconsistent. He went from a 60 percent true shooting guy in his contract year to 51 percent in his two seasons in Toronto. Pretty much the only thing that didn’t go missing during his time in Canada was his name.
His shooting at times...it was really bad.
And his lack of athleticism definitely put him in some spots that will look similar to Johnson’s game.
So going back to the title of this post, the answer is no. Johnson’s not just going to step into Casey’s system and suddenly be a gem. He could be Anunoby or he could be Carroll. For him to emulate OG Anunoby’s success, he’s going to need to borrow some of OG Anunoby’s habits.
Go hard to the rim. Look for the corner three. Don’t get overdo the pull up.
The alternative? Well, he was bad enough that the Raptors gave away a draft class to get rid of him.