Pistons' Johnson motivated to be just like LeBron

Terry Foster
The Detroit News
Stanley Johnson

Orlando – Stanley Johnson and Justise Winslow are pals.

They enjoyed dinner together Saturday night and they had plans to go to a movie Sunday evening. They are also linked in that the Pistons took Johnson with the No. 8 pick of the NBA draft and they allowed Winslow to slide by them to the 10th pick to the Miami Heat. It was a stunning move for some, but Johnson said he plans to back it up by becoming the best player in the 2015 draft.

Johnson and Winslow will play against each other for the first time as NBA players Monday at 5 p.m., when the Pistons' summer league team plays the Miami Heat at the Orlando Magic practice facility. It will be a highly anticipated matchup for the media and NBA fans.

It won't be for Johnson, who has played with and against Winslow dozens of times.

"No," Johnson snapped. "Play against LeBron (James) -- that means something."

Johnson comes into the matchup on a high. He scored 24 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had two steals during the Pistons' 77-69 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.

Observers saw new parts of his game. They saw that he is court-smart and patient. The Pistons' summer league team is a lot better when Johnson is in the game. He easily is their best player here and is taking command of games.

He began with a primal scream after grabbing a rebound and knocking in a bank shot. He passed open 3-point shots and instead drove to the basket, where he completed a three-point play after a layup. And he slipped in a nice pass to center David Wear for a layup. And, yes, he finished around the basket for the second game in a row.

"I've just played a lot of basketball. That is all you can really do," Johnson said. "I watch everything pretty close. I am trying to make that learning curve pretty fast for me to the next level. It is just studying the game and knowing what you are doing."

A lot of young players feel they must do everything all at once and it messes with their heads and their games. Johnson, who just turned 19, wants to avoid that.

"It is easy for me," Johnson said. "I have no pressure here. I am not out here trying to have the best game of my life. I am being myself.

"Coach Van Gundy is big on me. You don't have to score a point. That was his word. You just have to play defense and play hard and you will be fine. At the end of the day what he says matters and it made it easier for me."

Summer league coach Bob Beyer took pressure off Johnson by bringing him off the bench in Game 1, but Beyer started Johnson on Sunday. Beyer sees a quick study and wanted to give him a little more responsibility.

"He is a really smart player," Beyer said of Johnson. "He is always grabbing coaches and wants to look at additional tape. He wants mistakes pointed out to him. He really is a sponge. He wants to learn everything he can. He absorbs everything."

Johnson sees a bigger plan in front of him. He wants to win titles and he wants to compete against the best in the game. It is something the Pistons have not done in years. But Johnson's goal is to compete with James.

"He is the best player in the league and I want to be the best player in the league too so I have a target on him," Johnson said. "I will keep reaching for that goal. I think (James) is a team player so I have to be a better team player to be on the same level as him.

"The best players win a lot of games, so it is not about your points or your rebounds."

Kammeon Holsey chipped in 16 points and had three rebounds for the Pistons, and Justin Harper finished with nine points.

Guard Nate Wolters led the Clippers with 18 points and former Michigan State standout Branden Dawson finished with eight points and five rebounds.