Detroit — From looking at the box score, Stanley Johnson didn’t have a good game.
Not at all.
The stat line is ugly: 40 minutes, 0-for-13 from the field, six misses from 3-point range.
Johnson managed just two free throws and tallied four assists and four steals in Wednesday’s 102-90 win over the Charlotte Hornets at Little Caesars Arena.
Per Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the worst opening-night shooting performance in the shot-clock era.
It wasn’t quite the shooting night that anyone envisioned. After a positive preseason, Johnson didn’t carry that improvement into the opener. Coach Stan Van Gundy has called for Johnson to rely on his defensive energy and pressure and that will help bring a little more to the table than just what’s on the stat sheet.
“Stanley shot 44 percent from 3 in the preseason. He’s been shooting the ball well and had a miserable night shooting,” Van Gundy said after the game. “Let’s move to the next night and find another way to go, but you have to shoot the shots.”
And Johnson kept shooting what Van Gundy deemed good shots. Some went in and spun out before they fell. Others were right on the rim and bounced out. The misses didn’t hinder his hunting for shots and they still didn’t go in.
Close doesn’t count for anything in basketball — but he has to keep shooting them.
Johnson’s biggest contribution may have come during a break, though. Andre Drummond was miffed at a no-call when Hornets center Dwight Howard pushed him to the floor — and wanted to get into Howard’s face to let him know about it.
“Andre, shut the (expletive) up!” Johnson shouted, within earshot of the Fox Sports Detroit microphones.
It worked. Drummond calmed down — and a heated situation that in past years might have erupted into a technical foul or ejection and a downward spiral of emotions was quelled quickly.
And that’s something.
“Our team has still got to grow and mature and they have to help each other in that process,” Van Gundy said Thursday. “I did think that (situation) was a positive.”
Johnson’s offense will come, but the demeanor to tell the longest-tenured Piston and face of the franchise that he needed to calm down was a step forward for Johnson. At age 21 and in his third season and just cracking the lineup as a regular starter, it said something about where this team can go with different leadership.
While many have questioned who the leader is in this group, Johnson made a statement on the court — without even making a basket.
Johnson’s teammates appreciated that he stayed with the game plan to just find the best open shots and that he didn’t let his offensive struggles affect the other parts of his game.
“I love the way Stanley stayed aggressive. A lot of shots went in and out and for most people, it would have flustered them and they would have quit on themselves,” point guard Reggie Jackson said. “He continued to stay aggressive and take his shots and it didn’t take away from his defensive intensity and crashing the glass.”
It’s a common occurrence for a player to have a bad shooting night but Johnson’s was even more of a struggle than the typical off night. Van Gundy said he didn’t make it a point to pull Johnson aside to talk to him on Thursday, and some of the other veterans just tried to keep Johnson in positive thoughts.
“You keep encouraging him to keep shooting it. Whenever you have a bad night shooting, you just come back in the gym the next day and continue to get better,” guard Langston Galloway said Thursday. “(You have to believe) the next shot is going to fall.”