While we will have to wait for some of the bigger names like Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell to make their debut, the Orlando Summer League gives a taste of future talent with players like Justise Winslow and Frank Kaminsky competing against each other. But the most impressive player so far has been Stanley Johnson, the 8th overall pick by the Detroit Pistons.
Following the trend of one and done players, Johnson came from a strong Arizona campaign, averaging 13.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. He was scouted to be able to immediately contribute to a franchise, and after a couple of games in the summer league he is proving the early assessments correct.
Summer league is a small sample size on a player, so don’t be swayed too much by hot shooting performances, but rather on how a player plays with a team and the variables that pretty much stay constant. Variables like strength, athleticism, and defense. Johnson has shown that he is both willing and able to bang with the big bodies down in the paint, and his strength is impressive on both ends of the court. He seems unaffected by the subtle hand checks that defenders throw at him on drives, and more than able to ward off defenders when boxing out.
Johnson’s ability to stay strong on drives and take the contact from the opposition has been impressive. Already he looks like he is ready to play through contact, which is important for rookies. Too many rookies look for fouls early in their career and are not ready for the physicality of the NBA. Johnson is taking the contact to the opponent– something Van Gundy will love.
His shot will come and go, and it was nice to see a variety of offensive moves from Johnson. He utilized the floater a couple of times in his 24 point performance against the Clippers, but the thing that he does so well is play within himself and his ability to make things happen without demanding the ball. Many of his opportunities he created by staying patient and crashing the offensive glass or with his off ball movement. For a player like Johnson, who was not drafted to save a franchise, contributing to the team without dominating the ball is vital to staying on the court.
One of the biggest adjustments that college players have to make at the highest level is the speed of the game, and that is something that they are just not used to. There is no more catching a pass and taking a few probing dribbles. Instead, it is of making the correct of three decisions as quickly as possible: drive, pass, or shoot.
Johnson will not be the featured offensive threat, so he will be to let the other playmakers in the Detroit system manipulate the defense and create open looks for him, and his job will be to knock down the open shot or make the right read. In summer league, where he is one of the featured players on the rotation, Johnson is doing well in creating a name for himself and letting the coach get an early glimpse of how his game will translate to the NBA level. His strength and athleticism is a key asset and vital part of his game, and Johnson has shown already that he is not only willing but actively looking to exploit his advantages against his opponents.
The big problem that Johnson will face at the next level is shooting, especially because Van Gundy likes to employ a 4-out approach to his offense. Spacing is a vital part of the offense, and it will not do for a small forward to be unable to stretch out the floor as a shooting threat. Johnson was not seen to be a great shooter coming into college, but despite those early reports, Johnson managed to shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc in his only year in college. It will still be seen to see if he can keep defenses honest with his shooting, but you can bet that Van Gundy has already stressed the importance of the three for his team.
Another area of focus that Johnson needs to work on is finishing around the rim, as he was not very effective once he penetrated into the paint. While he addressed some of that issue by adding a floater to his arsenal, it is still a part of his game that Johnson needs to improve. With all that being said, his size, strength and athleticism have all shone through in the first couple of games in Orlando. Opposing small forwards have a tough time keeping Johnson from getting to the rim, and Johnson has had his way with most of what the defenses have thrown at him. His future should be exciting, as he has a good feel for the game and looks like he will mesh with any team really well.