Detroit Pistons, The Whiteboard

The Whiteboard: Detroit Pistons still cannot rely on Stanley Johnson

He can defend, but Stanley Johnson hasn’t been able to add much else to the Detroit Pistons in his four seasons.

The Detroit Pistons are 4-3, neither much better nor worse than anybody would have expected a mere seven games into the 2018-19 regular season. Blake Griffin has been terrific early, which has helped the Pistons get some of those early wins.

Balancing out Griffin’s potent offensive attack has been Stanley Johnson. Johnson was the Pistons’ eighth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, making him the highest Detroit draft pick on the roster this season. Despite plenty of chances, Johnson has yet to live up to the promise of a lottery pick.

Through three full NBA seasons and the early stages of a fourth, Johnson has yet to hit 40 percent from the field or 31 percent from 3-point territory in a season. His career scoring average is right around 7.0 points per game, through 225 games.

The sample sizes here are not small — Stanley Johnson has simply never been a consistently helpful offensive player in Detroit. That’s troublesome considering he’s started every game he’s played this season, and new Pistons head coach Dwane Casey seems committed to giving him a shot.

Johnson’s defense is his saving grace, and he is a legitimately good defender. Still, it’s very difficult for an NBA player to be effective in any role, never mind starter, if they’re only effective on one end of the floor. That applies to players who can’t play any defense, and it also applies to defensive specialists who can’t find a role on the other end.

Andre Roberson’s apparent importance to the Oklahoma City Thunder is one example of a player making it work, but these Pistons have never looked like the Thunder with Johnson in tow. Going into Wednesday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, a close loss for the Pistons, the team was indeed better defensively with Johnson on the floor.

Johnson’s defensive help hasn’t been making enough of a difference, though, as the Pistons were getting outscored by 2.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor while they beat teams by 1.4 points per 100 without him. Teams being able to essentially ignore him on offense makes guarding the rest of the Pistons that much easier.

According to Cleaning the Glass, Johnson’s efficiency, as determined by points per shot attempt, has placed him in the bottom 13 percent of wing players in each of his first three full seasons. This year he’s categorized as a forward, and still be found in the bottom quarter of that group in points per shot attempt.

In addition to not scoring the ball, Johnson has actually become a worse passer year over year, according to assist percentage ranking. His assist percentage dropped steadily from his first to third season, and despite an uptick thus far this season Cleaning the Glass has him in the 33rd percentile of forwards in that stat, the lowest he’s finished there in his career.

Being an effective wing defender is great, but unless Stanley Johnson can figure out some way to be productive on the other end, or get himself traded to Oklahoma City to fill in for Roberson, he’s going to have trouble contributing to a winning team.

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