A move into the starting lineup gave Stanley Johnson a chance to flourish Sunday afternoon.
The Pistons opted to bring the eighth overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft off the bench in his first professional appearance, but provided an immediate impact in his second outing.
On the third possession of the game for the Pistons, Johnson grabbed an offensive rebound and converted a layup, sparking a breakout performance.
The 19-year-old couldn’t stop making plays, as he posted game-high totals with 24 points, nine rebounds and three steals, leading Detroit to a 77-69 victory.
Any role the Pistons needed him to play, Johnson was able to handle, as he was seemingly in control throughout the contest.
The 6-foot-7 forward crashed the boards, defended on the perimeter and spent much of the afternoon facilitating the offense and the elevated responsibilities, including becoming a major part in the pick-and-role offense Detroit runs, has Johnson believing he can help the team once the regular season begins.
“I’ve always been able to play off the bounce and everybody’s perception of me is different than what I actually was,” Johnson said. “I’m more than a 3 and D guy, I can put it on the floor, now we are playing NBA basketball and there it is.”
The Pistons have a glaring need at the small forward position and selected Johnson last month to provide spacing on the floor with his 3-point shooting and need him to make an impact on the defensive end.
Those traits were evident during his freshman season at Arizona as he averaged 13.8 points, connected on 37.1 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, to go along with 6.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
After seven consecutive losing seasons, with their last playoff appearance coming in 2009, the Pistons are hoping the penchant for success Johnson has displayed throughout his entire basketball career carries with him professionally.
At Mater Dei High School in Fullerton, California, Johnson led the team to four consecutive state titles and failed to lose a single game in 70 tries during his junior and senior seasons.
Prior to the NBA Draft, Johnson refused to workout with Charlotte, the team that was selecting ninth overall, in the hopes of landing with either Detroit or the Heat.
The tactic worked, as the Pistons landed Johnson with the eight overall pick, marking the fourth time in the past five years the team selected between seventh and ninth in the draft.
Miami selected Duke small forward Justise Winslow with the 10th overall pick.
The two play each other Monday afternoon, but Johnson is treating the showdown just as another game.
“No, no, it means nothing. When I play against LeBron, then it’s something,” Johnson said. “Chances are we are going to guard each other, we’ll play each other a couple of minutes, maybe. We’ve played against each other a bunch of times, it won’t be anything different.”
Johnson and Winslow are friends off the court, having played together in AAU starting in the sixth grade, then were teammates on USA Basketball teams.
The two lottery selections even met for dinner Sunday night.
There is a competitive rivalry and both are ready for their first meeting as NBA players.
“Just the competitors that we are, we want to play against the top competition. We constantly see each other in tournaments and were working out together,” Winslow said. “I’m looking forward to playing against him tomorrow, just for the simple fact that he is a great player and I want to challenge myself.”
Against the Clippers, Johnson displayed exactly what kind of impact he is able to provide.
After his put back layup early in the contest, Johnson was able to get to the rim at will. He connected on 10-of-14 attempts from the field while the rest of the team connected on just 32.8 percent of its attempts.
Along with his ability to drive to the basket, Johnson swished home a 3-point attempt from the wing, grabbed a team-high three offensive rebounds and helped Detroit outscore the Clippers by 14 points while he was on the floor.
Immediately after he was selected by the Pistons, Johnson boldly declared that he was the best player in his draft class and after two appearances at the 2015 NBA Summer League, that confidence hasn’t waned.
“I think I should dominate every game, honestly,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to sell myself short just because it’s the summer league, to me it’s about playing every game with the same effort.”