Detroit — Stanley Johnson was living his best life and having one of the best offensive games of his career as the Pistons dominated the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.
Johnson finished with a season-high 22 points, flashing the versatile skill set that most Pistons fans thought he could have achieved a couple seasons ago. He made four 3-pointers, drove the lane and was a menace on defense with three steals.
He had 13 points — with three 3-pointers — in Wednesday’s win at Orlando. On Sunday, he followed with four points on 2-of-9 shooting, going 0-for-3 on 3-pointers. That’s where the frustration sets in: looking for Johnson to be more consistent over the course of multiple games on both ends of the court.
With his move to the reserve group, Johnson has been able to handle the ball more, create driving lanes and finish in the paint, which is more open with Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin out of the game.
That looks to be the better niche role for Johnson after he struggled mightily in the starting group in the first eight games.
“Stanley has done a heck of a job of accepting his role, coming in and staying within himself with the second unit,” coach Dwane Casey said. “He’s done all we’ve asked him to do. It’s easy to be positive in that situation.”
Even with his recent downtown surge (7-for-15) in the Pistons’ last two wins, Johnson still is only at 29 percent on 3-pointers for the season. He was frustrated early on but seeing more shots fall in recent games has him encouraged about his potential improvement.
“It’s definitely relieving. I work very hard and shoot every day. I worked tirelessly this summer so when (the shots) go off, I don’t understand it sometimes,” Johnson said. “It’s just staying consistent with my technique and form and believing in myself, and my teammates encourage me to keep shooting through the rough times.
“Coach Casey always tells me there’s more to basketball than just shooting and making 3s. I have to focus on having fun and playing freely. If I can do that, I can continue the consistency.”
The Monday Drive takes a look at some keys to the Pistons’ recent win streak and looks ahead to Wednesday’s showdown against the Raptors in Casey’s first game back in Toronto:
1. Remember way back last week when Reggie Bullock couldn’t throw a shot in the ocean? That looks to be a thing of the past. Bullock started 7-for-30 (23 percent) on 3-pointers in his first seven games, including making just four of his first 20 attempts. He’s turned that around in the last two games, going 3-for-6 against the Hawks and 6-for-9 against the Hornets. The six made 3-pointers are a career high. Casey said he wasn’t worried about Bullock and the shots would fall eventually. It looks like he was correct in his patience.
2. I thought before the season that Drummond would have another All-Star season. He’s living up to that billing with his early performances. He notched his fifth 20-20 game with Sunday’s 23 points and 22 rebounds. He’s improving on his shot selection and is becoming more engaged on the defensive end — he added three steals and two blocks. He led the league in rebounding last season at 16, and he’s posting 16.6 this season, with renewed energy.
3. The Pistons weren’t serious contenders to get Jimmy Butler in a trade, but keep an eye on them checking the market for a dependable 3-point shooter like the Cavaliers’ Kyle Korver. Although he’s 37, Korver is a career 43-percent 3-point shooter and could help the Pistons in a specific role. Obviously, there would be other suitors, but the Pistons will monitor the cost of such a potential move to improve their bench. The Cavs likely would be looking for a first-round pick, but if the price drops, the Pistons could go shopping.
4. In their two wins last week, the Pistons topped two teams that they absolutely should be beating. But it’s the games like the Heat and Hornets — both losses — that they’ll have to start winning to elevate themselves into playoff contention. Their play has been up-and-down, as most .500 teams are apt to do, but their schedule gets tougher in January, so piling up wins in November and December is critical to their long-term prospects.
5. Casey returns to Toronto for the first matchup against his former team on Wednesday night. There will be high emotions for the Pistons, who will be looking to get the win for Casey, but it's also a matchup against the Raptors (12-1), who have the best record in the league. It’ll be a test for the Pistons on the road, but also an opportunity to get their biggest win of the season.