Pistons' Johnson looks, feels good in first practice

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — At Stanley Johnson's first day of practice, there were no nervous butterflies or staying up late on Monday night in anticipation.

The Pistons' rookie forward took it all in stride for Tuesday's opening of training camp at the team's practice facility. If the first practice is any indication, things are starting to come easy for Johnson.

The Pistons' first camp session had plenty of new faces, but Johnson, the first-round pick from Arizona, was one of the standouts in the limited time of the team scrimmage.

After making strides in summer league play, Johnson adapted to the pro game and made an impression on coach Stan Van Gundy and his new teammates.

"He looked good; he played very, very well. He was one of the better players in the little bit of 5-on-5 we did," Van Gundy said. "He's got to work on building his defensive habits, but his competitiveness is there, and he knows how to play the game, so he has a little bit of a head start."

While most of the focus on Tuesday was on teaching and getting players acclimated to working with each other, there were about 25 minutes left for some live action — and Johnson was one of the standouts.

Pistons work on techniques, defenses as practice starts

Johnson said he was teamed with point guard Reggie Jackson, shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, forward Marcus Morris and big man Ersan Ilyasova but didn't worry about trying to do too much; rather, he wanted to get in the flow of the game and let the plays come to him.

"No nerves. It's just basketball," Johnson said. "I expect to play to the best of my abilities. As long as I can handle my business and control what I can control, I'll be fine.

"When the plays came to me, I just made the play I could make. We have Reggie on the ball making plays for me and Dre (Drummond) makes it easier on me as well. It's not just me out there playing."

There's plenty more for him to learn, but with his well-rounded game, Johnson was able to excel in many areas, one of the things that enticed the Pistons to take him with the No. 8 overall pick instead of another option.

Those skills came out on the first day of practice, but he learned his place, working off the key cogs, Jackson and Drummond, trying to find his own niche.

"(I did) a little bit of everything. It just depends on what situation it was," he said. "I just played off everybody else and made plays that were available, not trying to force anything."

In his one season at Arizona, he averaged 13.8 points and 6.5 rebounds and was selected to the All-Pac 12 first team. But in his short time with the Pistons, he's learned from Van Gundy and figured out a way to continue his success from college to the pros.

His competitiveness is one of the assets that sets him apart, and even in practice, he lets it show, not afraid of rookie mistakes, but looking to learn in the process.

"Experience is the best teacher," he said. "I haven't played one game or practiced one time officially, so for me to have everything down would be pretty good on my part, but pretty unrealistic right away.

"A lot of this stuff is very similar to what I did in college, but if you come into a new system, you want to be open to new things."

What starts off as friendly competition gets a little heated sometimes, but Johnson and the young Pistons are using that as fuel to get hungrier for winning.

That practice will carry over into the season, and hopefully translate into success.

"For me, if we're not wearing the same color jersey as me, you're my competitor. There are some other guys on the team that feel that way as well," Johnson said. "In practice, we want to have that kind of intensity about each other to make us better. On a nightly basis, we want to be competitors."