Defensive lapses leave Johnson on Pistons’ bench

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Brooklyn, N.Y. — It’s becoming the curious case of Stanley Johnson.

The Pistons are in a chase for one of the final playoff spots in the East and second-year wing Stanley Johnson looks to be back in coach Stan Van Gundy’s doghouse.

Johnson didn’t play the second half of Sunday’s win over the Phoenix Suns, nor Tuesday’s loss at the Brooklyn Nets. It was the fifth game Johnson has missed this season — the first since early December.

Though Johnson is one of the Pistons’ better defenders, Van Gundy looks to be sending a message with Johnson’s benching.

“I didn’t like the way he’s been playing so I wanted to give (Reggie) Bullock a run tonight,” Van Gundy said Tuesday.

Van Gundy suspended Johnson for a game in late November and reduced his playing time when he felt Johnson was slow and out of shape. Since then, Johnson has worked his way back into the playing rotation — until he had a lapse on Sunday.

Johnson was guarding Jarell Eddie, who had signed a 10-day contract with the Suns before Sunday’s game. There was a specific game plan for guarding 3-pointers, which Johnson apparently didn’t adhere to, giving up a 3-pointer and then fouling Eddie, on another attempt, giving him three free throws.

“We were minus-17 in 6:54 with Stanley. He wasn’t locked in game-plan wise at all on Jerrell Eddie. So he gives up a 3, doesn’t make the adjustment and play the way we’re supposed to be on the second one and gets the foul on the second one and was more concerned about the ref’s call than doing what he’s supposed to do,” Van Gundy said Sunday.

“I’m trying to talk to him and he’s trying to talk to the ref. I looked at the plus-minus at halftime and said we’ll go a different route in the second half.”

Against the Nets on Tuesday, Johnson didn’t play at all, as Van Gundy looked to Bullock for the backup minutes at shooting guard. Bullock when 1-for-3 for two points in 13 minutes.

In a more general sense, Van Gundy seems to be working with Johnson on his defensive focus, which is up and down, depending on the type of offensive player he’s guarding.

“This is probably true of every guy in the league: There are some things and types of people they defend better, more naturally and they’re more comfortable,” Van Gundy said. “Just like there’s more situations on offense where guys are more comfortable. Some guys are more attuned to chasing guys off screens, defending pick-and-roll, defending post-ups and isolations and when you get them in other situations and maybe they’re not as comfortable and not as good.

“That’s part of it — but he could have been more locked in.”