Pistons’ Johnson refigures his effectiveness

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — During his rookie season, Stanley Johnson focused on scoring and trying to make a niche in the NBA. Despite a shoulder injury that limited him in the second half of the season, he posted 8.1 points and 4.2 rebounds in about 23 minutes per game.

In many ways, it was just about the traditional stats. He would look at the box score and be satisfied that he was having good games. When he saw the plus/minus column at the end, he admittedly wasn’t sure was it meant.

“Last year, I thought it was a miscalculation of points or something,” Johnson said. “This year, it’s more of a difference, trying to gain more minutes and being one of the more efficient players that helped the team win on the court.”

For some, the plus/minus metric — the differential between the points a team scores when a player is on the court and what the opponent scores during that period — is a better pure statistic. Beyond just the raw stats of points, rebounds and assists, it provides a more comprehensive look at how impactful a player is during his time on the court.

It can be deceptive, but in many cases, it’s a reflection of how effective a player is — sometimes without him having to score. In Monday’s win over the Chicago Bulls, Johnson had just three points in 16 minutes, but got a plus-16 rating, the highest on the team.

“Overall, that is exactly what it should be: ‘How does the team play when I’m on the court?’ ” Van Gundy said. “If the team plays well then over a long period of time, you’re more than likely doing your job.

“For him, (the key) is really impacting the game defensively — that’s the No. 1 thing he has to do. He’s trying to do that and he’s becoming an impact defender.”

Since the beginning of February, Johnson has been making the bigger impact overall, as shown by his plus/minus (plus-98), but a closer look shows that it’s coming on the defensive end, as he’s scored just 67 points in those 15 games.

Though his scoring average has dipped to 4.1 this season, Johnson has evolved and figured out that plus/minus is the better metric for measuring his effectiveness.

“I look at plus-minus first,” Johnson said. “I could get 20 points and if our team was minus-20 when I was in the game, I didn’t play well that night; I didn’t have any effect on the game.”

The stat has its foibles. All five players on the court at the same time get the same plus/minus score, even if one player allows the player he’s guarding to score 10 straight points. Taken solely, it can be deceptive, but it best confirms what was seen from watching the game itself.

That’s complex stuff for some younger players to grasp early in their careers, but Johnson looks to have his priorities in order.

“It takes everybody a little bit to learn some of those things; it’s an important stat for them,” Van Gundy said. “For me, it’s more cumulative game after game. In a single game, I don’t know that it’s that telling.”

Hurt in Cleveland

The Cavaliers still lead the Eastern Conference, but they’ve had their share of issues with injuries. Newly-acquired big man Andrew Bogut suffered a fractured left leg in his debut on Wednesday. J.R. Smith, who suffered a broken thumb, is cleared to practice and could return tonight against the Pistons.

Forward Kyle Korver (foot soreness) will miss tonight’s game.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard