ORLANDO — Before Stanley Johnson even took his very first sip of NBA competition, he declared that he wasn’t “going to let anybody punk me” on the court.
So when his most recent game at the Orlando Pro Summer League tipped off and the Pacers chose to run a post-up play for the man he was guarding, Solomon Hill, Johnson reacted as if someone had touched him with a cattle prod.
“For some guy to attack me the first play of the game, I think that says volumes about what the coach thinks about me and therefore I take it disrespectfully,” Johnson said. “From that point on, if he scores the basket, doesn’t score the basket, that’s just like a another chip on my shoulder already to start the game.”
Through four games in the practice gym at the Amway Center, Johnson has been constantly hustling, always forceful and giving Detroit fans a reason to look forward to his rookie year against the big boys. Though Pistons head coach and team president Stan Van Gundy says just because he was the No. 8 pick in the NBA Draft and has shown the joys of summer, it doesn’t mean Johnson will be handed a spot in the starting lineup or even the rotation.
“I think it’s important that (rookies) play when they deserve to play,” said Van Gundy. “And not just, ‘We’re going to play our guy.’ I know some people believe in that. I don’t.
“I think it inhibits a guy’s development when he’s simply handed minutes and doesn’t have to do anything to earn them and thus there is no reason to work hard or change the way you play.
“You always like to see him play against good players, but I’ve been at this long enough that I don’t get real pumped up if a guy plays well in summer league, and I don’t get too depressed if he doesn’t. There is just not a lot of carryover.”
Nevertheless, Johnson has been confident, effective and consistent, averaging 17.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals.
As a defender, Johnson has shown an ability to blow up the pick-and-roll. He’s repeatedly gone to the floor chasing down loose balls and can make the show-stopping play. Just when Indy’s Romero Osby thought he had a breakaway dunk, there was Johnson swooping in from behind at the last second with for a resounding rejection that showed he doesn’t simply write off a possession.
“Those are effort plays. Those are winning plays,” said Pistons summer league coach Bob Beyer. “When he blocked that shot at the rim he never gave up on the play. He just kept coming and again I think that says a lot about him as a competitor.”
There were questions about Johnson’s shooting ability coming out of Arizona, where he hit just 44.6 percent of his attempts in his only college season. But he’s making at a 64.3 percent clip here and is 4-for-9 on 3-pointers.
Most important, Johnson has shown an ability to play an overall game and to have the kind of personality that commands attention. He keeps telling everyone who’ll listen that he isn’t into comparisons with his good friend Justise Winslow, whom the Pistons passed over to take Johnson with the eighth pick and just wants to prove that he’s as good or better than anybody in his draft class. For now. He’s got the rest of the league in his long-range sights. He’s skilled, competitive and thoroughly engaging.
Somebody asked Johnson if it was accurate to just check off every box of all-around skills when it came to describing his game.
“I would say so,” Johnson said. “I have a lot of learning to do in making those checks darker, bolder and getting better at a lot of different things, but I can be very versatile on the court. Like I was preaching before the draft started, I can go one through four positions. I can do a lot of the things on the court.”
Then tell you about them.