Pistons tell Johnson to focus on his faults

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Stanley Johnson is not one to back down from challenges.

During his rookie season, Johnson showed his bravado guarding LeBron James or taking the ball to him in the playoff series loss to the Cavaliers.

But now comes the hard part.

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy wants Johnson to stay away from 5-on-5 tournaments and focus on working on his own skills.

“When I start playing competitively, even if I’m trying to work on something, I just throw (my skills) out the window because I want to win,” Johnson said. “He says, ‘Jump,’ and I say, ‘How high?’

“I know he has the best interest at heart for me and what I want to do with my career.”

Johnson, the No. 8 pick in last year’s draft, posted some impressive rookie numbers — 8.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 23 minutes. But he also had some areas to improve — shooting 38 percent overall, 31 percent on 3-pointers.

After suffering a shoulder injury Feb. 22, he missed seven games and wasn’t the same down the stretch, averaging 5.4 points the last 17 games.

“The biggest thing with young players is in order to improve, they have to spend time on the things they don’t like or that they don’t do well,” Pistons general manager Jeff Bower said. “Those are the biggest things to slow down their growth. Their instincts take over when they’re in game situations.

“The best improvement is day-to-day repetition in an empty gym, with a pinpoint focus on a particular skill or a set of skills.”

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For Johnson, that could be improving his jump shot, working on driving and finishing, and getting more comfortable overall.

Those aren’t areas he necessarily can fix in Summer League or pickup games.

“He’s a tough, competitive guy; he can’t work on team defense in the summer easily,” Van Gundy said. “He’s got months where it’s not about going out and competing and showing you can kick somebody’s (butt) — he’s got all that competitiveness.

“What he doesn’t have right now are NBA skills at that level he needs them. He needs to improve on shooting, his footwork and ballhandling.”

The 6-foot-7, 240-pound Johnson admitted it would be hard to stay away from team competition, but if that’s the plan for his improvement, he’s willing to listen.

“He needs to change his approach in the offseason and really pay attention to his skills,” Van Gundy said.

Johnson showed some proficiency as the sixth man, taking his lumps in some games but excelling in others.

He averaged 8.0 points in the playoffs and shot 6-for-10 on 3-pointers.

“Stanley is no different than the bulk of highly talented and highly rated young players coming into the league,” Bower said. “They don’t know until they get through their first year how much better they could be and would be if they added certain elements to their game.

“It’s pretty hard to add a whole package from year to year. It is reasonable to have expectations to add one or two new elements to what you naturally do well now.”

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard