Take a look at this picture of the basketball team’s annual mile run, and tell me it doesn’t look like Stanley Johnson just walked over from football practice.
For those of you living under a rock, that beast is freshman Stanley Johnson, all 6-7 and 235 pounds of him. I bet there are more than a few NFL scouts who would love to get their hands on him.
Luckily for Wildcat fans, Johnson isn’t going the Antonio Gates or Jimmy Graham route anytime soon. And that’s bad news for the other Pac-12 teams, who will have to gameplan for Johnson’s unique talent.
So how do you prepare for Johnson?
Let’s get something straight first. Arizona has had a lot of talented freshmen come through the program. Johnson might be the best.
That’s not hyperbole, it’s not hype, it’s the facts. Johnson’s body of work, as it stands today, is as impressive as any recruit before him. And his potential is is sky high.
What makes him so special, and ultimately so hard to prepare a defense for, is that there simply isn’t anyone with the physical characteristics to match up with him.
As a freshman, he’ll be one of the most physically developed players in the country regardless of class. And most players with the speed to stay in front of him don’t have the strength to deal with him near the basket.
It should put a grin on Arizona fans’ faces that the one player in the conference who seems to match up well with Johnson is his teammate, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
The most logical thing to do is put your most mobile big man on Johnson, and hope that he doesn’t hit his perimeter shots. At least that way you force him into tougher shots, and less rebounding opportunities.
Of course, Johnson would love to have that happen. A slower opponent could not stop Johnson from creating on the perimeter and he would have a field day shredding his defender off the dribble.
So you could go a different route, and put a smaller, quicker, peskier defender on Johnson and see what happens. A quick handed on ball defender could limit Johnson’s drives to the basket and reduce his room on the perimeter, sure.
But when Johnson has a smaller defender on him, he knows exactly where to go. With his strength, most guards don’t stand a chance when Johnson isolates in the paint.
Not to mention it plays into one of Johnson’s biggest strengths, rebounding. If Johnson’s defender isn’t strong enough to box him out, they will be punished on the glass. And he has the speed and handling ability to push the ball after a rebound and create transition opportunities.
Playing closer to the basket gives you higher percentage looks, and any coach worth their weight in salt doesn’t want Johnson getting into rhythm with easy buckets. So you’ll likely see most opponents try to defend Johnson like a power forward.
The point of this exercise is to illustrate that there is no right way to prepare for Johnson. He’s a problem with no solution. That’s why he was prioritized as a recruit by the coaching staff.
He’s a game changer for Arizona. He’s going to abuse defenders on the perimeter and dunk on them down low.
It’s going to be a fun ride for Wildcat fans. I hope you’re prepared.