NBA Rookie Countdown: No. 8 — Stanley Johnson

We’re a week into the NBA’s Preseason, which means every day we get a little bit closer to NBA basketball. As excited as you and I are for our favorite teams to get back onto the hardwood, the 2015 NBA rookie class has to be a thousand times more eager to prove that they belong, and I don’t know that many guys are more pumped up for the season to begin than Stanley Johnson of the Detroit Pistons.

No, I don’t know that he’s excited from speaking to him. I do know, however, that Johnson is one of the most NBA ready rookies in his class, and even though he wasn’t expected to be drafted over say fellow wing Justise Winslow, he came into his freshman season as a top five prospect, and is ready to take revenge on the seven teams that passed on him.

Let’s take a look at how the defensive standout has gotten this far, and what we should watch out for in his first year in the league:

Why He Was Drafted?
 Just about everything about Johnson’s game screams “pro-ready,” and has for at least the last two years. The 2014 Mr. Basketball in the state of California, Johnson spent his one college season at Arizona, where he was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, while making the conference’s first team, as well as being named to the Freshman All American Team. Johnson was also awarded the inaugural Julius Erving Award, given to the nation’s best small forward, edging out fellow first round draft picks Winslow, Sam Dekker, and Justin Anderson to win the award.

We told you what he did, now let’s tell you you how he did it. At 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds (that’s like prime Ron Artest body), Johnson is one of the best two-way players in this draft. Relatively similar in skillset to Winslow, Johnson’s a dog on the defensive end, where he posted the second best defensive rating in the entire Pac 12. Arizona couldn’t have hoped for a better replacement for Aaron Gordon, as Johnson’s height and strength gave him the ability to defend the perimeter and even guard college power forwards in stretches, leading the way for the sixth best defense in the nation.

Here he is locking down pro prospect Caris Levert of Michigan:

And here’s Johnson showing his athleticism on a chase down block:

Johnson is a tremendous rebounder for his position, and has great instincts on the defensive end, where he should be able to make an impact immediately. As much as we expected him to be a difference maker on that end in college, I think he surprised a lot of people by being more than capable of a scorer, as he averaged a respectable 13.8 points per game, with a shooting line of 45/37/74. I’m not sure he’ll be able to score with that kind of efficiency in his first year in the NBA, but if his Summer League sample of 16.6 points on 58-percent shooting from the field and 42-percent from three are any indication, he may be surprising people with his offense for a second straight year.

Here’s a look at Johnson’s NBA debut (in the Summer League):

How Does he Fit in with the Pistons?

Johnson is the grinder that Stan Van Gundy has been dreaming of putting on the wing since the day he began coaching NBA basketball. Entering his second year as coach/GM in Detroit, its clear this team is in the middle of a rebuilding process, and Johnson should be a great piece to put in the middle of budding star center Andre Drummond and newly re-signed point guard Reggie Jackson.

Despite acquiring Jackson around the trade deadline, he and Drummond gave the Pistons their second best two-man lineup in terms of point differential, with Jackson and third-year wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope leading the way for the team (the three players gave Detroit its third best three-man lineup), which is a great sign that this teams’ core players were able to play well together in relatively no time.

What isn’t so great is that the Pistons will attempt to replace Greg Monroe with a combination of Marcus MorrisAron Baynes and Ersan Ilyasova, which who knows, could help the team both defensively and in terms of spacing on the offensive end, but realistically is a sizable downgrade in terms of talent. It was clear that the team wasn’t going to be able to thrive with Drummond and Monroe on the court at the same time (the two posted negative point differentials each season they played together), and I don’t disagree with them deciding to move forward with Drummond, as the 22-year old big man has already proven to be one of the best rebounding AND defensive centers in the NBA just three years into his career.

It’s unfair to all parties involved to insinuate that SVG is trying to replicate what he had in Orlando by making Dwi..I mean Drummond his anchor, and pairing him with a scoring point guard who thrives in penetration and putting shooters around them. However, Caldwell-Pope attempted more than 250 more three’s last season than he did the year before, and adding guys like Morris, Ilyasova, Danny Granger, Steve Blake, and even rookie Darrun Hilliard sort of points in that direction. Don’t forget two of Van Gundy’s first additions to this team were Jodie Meeks and Anthony Tolliver, AND Brandon Jennings will hopefully be returning to action in the not so distant future, so yeah we can expect this team to jump from 11th into the top ten in three point attempts this season.

You’ve seen the list of wings that the Pistons have on their roster, and I don’t know that any of them are better than Johnson is right now. Sure, some may fit more into what Van Gundy wants to do from an offensive standpoint, but Johnson gives this team a defensive presence on the perimeter that they’ve been sorely lacking. Johnson’s also an underrated facilitator, which I would think makes him a better option for this team than Meeks. I think it’s going to come down to how well he’s able to shoot from deep at the next level in terms of how big of a roll he’ll play for this team, but as I mentioned, he’s one of the more NBA ready guys in this draft. On a team that doesn’t have a ton of talent at the wings, I think he’ll be a starter and an impact player for this team that could compete for their first playoff appearance since 2009.

What Should We Expect Out of Him?
Again, I think there’s plenty of opportunity for Johnson to shine in Detroit with he, KCP, and Meeks being the best options at the two guard and small forward positions. Sure, we may see some of Morris or Tolliver at the three and I can’t imagine there won’t be some lineups with Jennings and Jackson on the court at the same time, but Johnson’s feasibly this teams best two-way perimeter player already.

Given his teams need for contributors on the wing and his ability to do everything at a high level, I think Johnson will be in the Rookie of the Year conversation. I also think if the Pistons are going to continue to head in the right direction it’s going to be in part because of Johnson’s impact.

As far as stats go, I expect to see Johnson finish near the top of rookies in minutes played, and I’ll guess his line looks something like 32 minutes per game, 12 points per game on 44-percent from the field, 34-percent from three, with 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1.5 steals per game.

I think those are relatively high expectations, but we’re talking about a player who will be a serious contender to be the most productive player in a very talented draft class. I think he fits well with what Detroit wants to do this year and moving forward, and I think he’ll prove it out of the gate.

About Jared Mintz

Jared has worked in ESPN's Production Research and Stats and Analysis Departments, and has contributed to websites such as IamaGM, SBNation, FanSided, and Bro Jackson. He's a Knicks fan, so he's been forced to watch the NBA objectively for the last 15 (going on infinity) years. Follow him on Twitter at @JMintzHoops