Health permitting, Stanley Johnson will be the Arizona Wildcats’ greatest addition to the NBA. Considering the long line of alumni to play in the league and their billion dollar collective earnings, that’s saying a lot.
If that statement comes as a shock to you, it’s because we are witnessing Johnson’s evolution on the path to achieving that potential, which he is just scratching the surface of.
He’s not a perfect player by any means, and he has a lot of growing to do. But in his short career at Arizona to date, day by day Johnson is revealing that he is a force to be reckoned with.
The young freshman’s early season growing pains were mostly mental. Not only is there the hurdle of learning the college game, but in some ways Johnson has had to relearn his own playing style. As a high schooler, Johnson was relied on to dominate games. He had to, and it was the best way for his team to win games.
But playing for the Wildcats, he’s on a team unlike any he’s ever been on. At a program like Arizona that boasts star talent at every position, the game becomes different for guys who are used to putting the team on their back.
Simply put, Johnson was just trying to do too much.
That’s an area he’s made great strides in. Every so often Johnson will revert back and force a shot or ill-advised drive, but for the most part, decision making has been one of his most improved skills.
It seems like every week Sean Miller finds a way to work in a positive comment about Johnson’s attitude or mental growth. And every week, we start to see a clearer glimpse of who Stanley Johnson really is.
In the chart above you’ll see Johnson’s scoring numbers jump around a bit on the season. But don’t be fooled. Since the beginning of December Johnson’s scoring became much more consistent, outside of the Wildcat’s two losses. And since the loss to Oregon State, Johnson has put up two of his best offensive games.
More important than the actual scoring figures has been his shot selection and consistency. He’s looked more and more like a part of the offense as the season has gone on, allowing his scoring to come within the flow of the game.
That might not have been the case in the first half of Arizona’s win over Utah, but it certainly was in the second. Johnson poured in 18 points and 9 rebounds, all after halftime. He was scoring at will, using his strength on the interior and his quickness on the perimeter en route to an unstoppable performance.
As the chart above shows, Johnson’s rebounding numbers have steadily trended upwards as the season has gone on, a testament to his increased tenacity around the basket.
Miller first brought up the point of Johnson’s ability to get offensive rebounds as an indicator of his effort level at the beginning of the season, and has noted improvement numerous times.
What that shows is that Johnson is settling into his comfort zone, allowing him to assert himself in the areas of the game that he naturally dominates.
It’s that progression that will allow Johnson to become a great player at the next level and dominate there too. It’s a shame we won’t get to watch that evolution at the collegiate level for much longer. But that’s why we should appreciate Johnson’s special talent while we have it in Tucson.