Aggression helps Pistons rookie Johnson bounce back

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
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Auburn Hills — What a difference a day can make.

In the span of about 24 hours, Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson experienced some of the ups and downs of the NBA. After admitting he was nervous before his debut Tuesday in Atlanta, Johnson had a subpar outing, with seven points (3-for-10), four rebounds and three assists in 24 minutes.

The next night, at home against Utah, Johnson followed with a similar stat line: 11 points (3-for-10) and five rebounds. The difference, though, was the way Johnson played and his impact.

He attacked. He made a 3-pointer. He drove the lane.

“He was aggressive and took the ball to the basket well and got to the free-throw line,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s going to have to shoot better than 3-for-10, as he’s done two nights in a row.”

In the final seconds, with the Pistons clinging to the lead, Johnson was on the floor with four starters

His versatility is why the Pistons drafted him in the first round, but there’s no rush in trying to throw Johnson into the starting lineup. Van Gundy played a few exhibitions with Johnson alongside Marcus Morris, but opted to bring Johnson off the bench, with Ersan Ilyasova as a bigger starting power forward.

But Johnson, 19, is learning he’ll need to be ready.

“(Van Gundy) told me not to get comfortable because I might start one night, come off the bench or come in early,” Johnson said. “Now that I know I’m going to be in that (reserve) role a lot more, I have to make that group go. That’s my job, and in Atlanta, the first stretch I went in, I wasn’t effective and that showed.”

Playing with the backup group of Steve Blake, Anthony Tolliver and Aron Baynes, Johnson was able to find a groove in the second half. And with some good passing from Blake, he started to get to the basket and help the Pistons offense.

But until he finds a consistent offensive feel, Johnson will be counted on to play tough defense.

“It means lot to me, (Van Gundy) showing trust in me early,” Johnson said. “I made a lot of mistakes in my career, especially early in my career in college. He knows that but he trusts that I will compete in every possession.”

Van Gundy also knows getting Johnson’s feet wet in smaller situations and letting him build gradually is a prudent philosophy. Defensively, though, Johnson has made a mark.

“I like his defensive disposition — I don’t feel like I’m putting a young kid in the game,” Van Gundy said. “(The Jazz) went small at the end on the crucial possessions and I had him in the game — I’m not afraid to do that. I have great confidence in him.”

Bulls at Pistons

Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. Friday, The Palace, Auburn Hills

TV/radio: FSD/WMGC

Outlook: Former MVP Derrick Rose is healthy and averaging 16.5 points and 4.0 assists in the first two Bulls games. Jimmy Butler (20.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4 assists) completes a potent backcourt.

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