By Oscar Heanue
While teams such as the Timberwolves and Lakers have their hearts set on selecting one of this year’s top big men or guards in the draft, the depth of potential star swingmen is grossly overlooked.
While Arizona’s Stanley Johnson may not carry the hype of these prospects, he’s a player that with a diverse all around skill set, could end up the best of the bunch.
Winning Background: While Johnson’s stock has plummeted following a disappointing showing in this year’s NCAA tournament and average workouts, he is still one of the most physically gifted and tantalizing prospects at the small forward position.
Despite a number of poor showings in March Madness, including an Elite Eight exit against Wisconsin, Johnson still possesses the drive and mental vigor that all NBA teams seek in their draftees.
Throughout his high school career, Johnson showed his desire to win and adapt to the needs of a team. Though he began at the PF slot, Johnson quickly expanded his skill set to include shooting, handles, and playmaking. His ability to create on offense quickly caught scouts’ attention, and brought him to near the top of many lists of high school prospects.
After delivering four consecutive D1 State Championship trophies to Matter Dei high, the 18-year-old Johnson continued his legacy of winning by leading Arizona to #5 in the AP rankings. Only a freshman, he led the Wildcats in scoring and finished second in rebounding to fellow draft entrant Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Despite a cold March, Johnson still managed to perform at an elite level in most of his high-stakes games. In college Stanley brought home MVP honors from the Maui Invitational as well as being named to the All-Tournament Team at the Pac-12 Tournament.
While teams may waver at someone who failed to put up big numbers in the NCAA tourney, GMs should know by now that March isn’t everything (See: Andrew Wiggins). Coupled with his international career in which he earned FIBA gold at the U16, U17, and U18 levels, Johnson’s career of delivering when it’s needed should be viewed as a major asset to NBA teams.
Johnson’s history of playing winning basketball and general comfort playing in high-stakes situations should lend itself beautifully to performing under the bright lights and pressure of the NBA.
Physical Tools: Perhaps Johnson’s biggest asset headed into the draft is his NBA body. At 6’7 and 245 pounds, Johnson’s build will have him immediately ready to bully NBA forwards.
His tank-like build is promising on the offensive end and absolutely terrifying on defense. Despite his relatively sub-par coordination and agility when finishing, his overwhelming physical frame allowed him to finish successfully through contact in college. With work on his finishing ability in the NBA, Johnson could use his impressive size and build to be a monster slasher and a threat in the post.
The defensive end of the floor, however, is where Johnson’s physicality really comes into play. His length and reach allow him to pester competition and wrap up smaller, lankier 3s. Thinner small forwards such as Nic Batum will be at the mercy of Johnson’s imposing size and strength.
Already, Johnson has made a name for himself by harassing opponents with his intimidating length, recording 1.5 steals per game and showcasing his length by bullying the smaller competition in a 4-steal defensive masterpiece against UTEP in December.
As a 245-pound swingman with a plus-5 wingspan, Johnson’s frame is reminiscent of a young Ron Artest. What is viewed as limited offensive potential could lead to many teams making the same mistake as they did with Artest and passing on one of the draft’s most promising players.
Upside: Johnson possesses arguably as much potential as any wing prospect in this year’s class. With his hustle and length, Johnson looks like the best wing defender in the draft since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Unlike MKG, however, Johnson demonstrates tremendous promise on the offensive end. His offensive game is raw, but showed a lot of progress in the past year. Already, Johnson shot the jumper much more proficiently than expected. Draining 37% from beyond the arc and 44.6% overall, he managed to shed the“offensively underdeveloped” label that he held coming out of high school.
As Zona’s top scorer and one of the team’s most efficient players, Johnson made a statement that he is more than just a defensive specialist – he is a complete player. His ability to stretch the floor proved to be perhaps his most valuable asset in college, as he possesses all the size and athleticism of an effective “tweener” while still having the offensive tools to be a starting wing in today’s three-point driven league.
Johnson’s ability to facilitate the offense off the dribble is another aspect that should not be overlooked. He has really improved in his ability to handle and pass and though he struggles to finish at the rim at times, he’s got intriguing ISO ability.
Further, if recent drafts are any indicator, teams shouldn’t shy away from drafting wings primarily for their defense. Kawhi Leonard, another swingman with a low draft stock who has proven that offense can be improved upon as long as a solid enough baseline exists.
His raw athleticism, defensive energy, and overall skill should make him a valued pro. Despite this, Johnson looks to be quickly becoming one of the draft’s most undervalued players. With Johnson looking like he has the chance to slide to the late lottery, teams should be salivating at the chance to make an excellent value pick.