Pistons lean on Bullock as Johnson's stats dip
Auburn Hills — Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson sat on the bench during Wednesday’s game at Orlando and waited for his time to get in the game.
And waited. And waited.
It never came.
Johnson, typically the first player off the bench for most of the season, didn’t play at all against the Magic, the first time this season that he sat on for a non-injury issue. He was having a good rookie season until a shoulder strain sidelined him for seven games.
He hasn’t been the same since.
In the first 57 games, Johnson had averaged nine points, and 4.2 rebounds, hitting 32 percent on 3-pointers and providing solid defense.
But against Cleveland on Feb. 22, he tried to run through a screen by Channing Frye and injured the shoulder. He rehabbed the shoulder and coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t play him again until he could absorb contact again.
In the 14 games since Johnson’s return, his numbers have dipped to 4.6 points and 3.7 rebounds and just 29 percent from the field, including 26 percent on 3-pointers.
That led Van Gundy to choose Reggie Bullock over Johnson in the Orlando game, leading to the dreaded DNP (did not play — coach’s decision).
“He didn’t have any DNPs except when he’s been hurt. I didn’t really talk to him much; I talked to him today,” Van Gundy said. “I just told him Reggie was going to play ahead of him.”
Johnson’s decreased production likely wasn’t due to hitting a rookie wall — Van Gundy said he was playing well before the injury — but the shoulder injury looked to impact his shot mechanics and his timing.
“I don’t know. His performance hasn’t been really good,” Van Gundy said. “His performance dipped after the injury. Did he hit the rookie wall? I’m not really trying to figure out why.”
It’s no slight against Johnson, but in the heat of a playoff race, there isn’t as much opportunity to break things down; Van Gundy was more focused on getting the Pistons into the postseason, ending their streak of six seasons out of the playoffs.
Johnson had a DNP last season during his freshman year at Arizona, but that was more because of a disciplinary issue for not returning to practice on time following a holiday break, Van Gundy said.
There aren’t any such issues with Johnson, but it’s unclear how his role might change given Bullock’s stellar play against Orlando, or whether fellow rookie Darrun Hilliard might supplant him in the rotation as well.
“It’s really tough to get that 10th guy; it’s hard to get enough minutes and have either one of them gain enough rhythm unless you get a foul-trouble situation,” Van Gundy said. “For the most part, I’m pretty well set on playing nine guys.”
Van Gundy praised Bullock, who has had longer stints on the bench, waiting for his turn to be able to get some playing time and show what he could contribute. He responded with 13 points against the Magic, as well as some critical steals down the stretch that helped the Pistons secure the win.
Bullock credited his work with assistant coach Charles Klask, who works with him daily to try to keep him sharp and prepared for if an opportunity arises.
“We have a great coaching staff that prepares guys and (Klask) does a good job with reserves trying to keep us ready,” Bullock said. “He does a good job with me, Darrun (Hilliard), and Spencer (Dinwiddie).”