Seemingly every year, there’s always a draft prospect (or two) that amazes you just from how physically gifted they are. In previous years, that label could have been directed at studs like Andre Drummond, Victor Oladipo or Anthony Davis. While that athleticism could be enough to excite the masses, it takes a special kind of player to combine those physical gifts with a solid on-court game. Perhaps the player that really embodies that would be Arizona wing Stanley Johnson.
Standing at 6’7 with an impressive 6’11 wingspan, Stanley Johnson might be the most athletically-sound talent in this year’s draft class who didn’t play for Kentucky. The moment that you lay your eyes on Johnson, you can immediately see somebody that’s an insane physical specimen, either from how he motors down the court in transition or how he powers his way past an opponent in half-court sets.
Looking away from that stand-out athleticism, you can see that Stanley Johnson has a pretty well-rounded offensive game, compared to the other young forwards that we’ve previously looked at. The anchor of Johnson’s offensive game might be his work as a shooter. From the perimeter, Johnson shot 37% on three attempts per game. As the season went on, that shooting percentage improved, as it was over 40% in both the conference and NCAA tournaments.
That impressive percentage is anchored by a quick, smooth shooting stroke, which makes him into an extremely dangerous catch-and-shoot option. Alongside that, Johnson can work off the dribble and still hit the shot on a consistent basis.
While his work off the dribble is solid, Stanley Johnson does have his struggles as an on-ball penetrator. In a similar way to how Paul George was earlier in his career, Johnson tends to struggle to move around an opponent if he can’t simply blow past them. That issue was most evident in Arizona’s season-ending defeat to Wisconsin, where he failed to create any offense against Sam Dekker.
Perhaps more troubling than that would be the fact that he really consistently makes bad decisions. While his perimeter shot is solid, there are a lot of instances where he just hoists up a shot when there’s either too much time left on the clock or when he’s heavily pressured. As well, he also tries to force penetration when he could simply work it to an open teammate.
Alongside that, Johnson actually had some issues when it came to finishing, as he shot a dreadful 40% from around the rim when he was working in the half-court. However, Johnson has been able to counteract by developing a solid penetration floater.
A lot of Stanley Johnson’s appeal as an NBA (and Jazz) prospect comes from his potential as a defensive potential. Invoking comparisons to former NBA Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest/Metta World Peace, Johnson’s natural physical gifts allows him to to defend against both guards and forwards. Over the course of his freshman season, Johnson has showcased an ability to stick with cutting guards, while also being able to use his length to defend against the post-up.
Another way that Johnson can make an impact on the defensive end would how he’s able to work his way in the passing lanes. By using his long wingspan, Johnson is consistently able to force turnovers, as he averaged 2.1 steals per-40 minutes.
However, Johnson has been known to have some mental lapses when he’s on the defensive end, mostly when he’s defending on the perimeter. Those lapses allow opponents to easily drive around Johnson and head to the rim.
Because of those issues, combined with his struggles in the NCAA Tournament, Stanley Johnson appears to be slowly falling down NBA mock drafts. As of the time of this piece, DraftExpress has Johnson going 9th, while Chad Ford has Johnson outside of the top 10 on his Draft Big Board.
That decline could put the Jazz in position to draft Stanley Johnson with their late lottery pick. As has been previously discussed with Kelly Oubre and Justise Winslow, the Jazz could be in need for another young, athletic wing that Quin Snyder could utilize in the team’s rotation. Johnson’s defensive flexibility would make an immediate and positive impact, as the team could use him as a rotational guard or forward. Additionally, Johnson’s knack for forcing turnovers and working in transition could help a team that’s 22nd in the league in points off turnovers.
While it might take him awhile to make a smooth transition as an offensive player, Johnson could still work as a solid off-ball weapon for either Trey Burke or Dante Exum. As well, his developing jumper could Johnson to be a solid last ditch option, in case Gordon Hayward or Derrick Favors are heavily guarded.