Let me tell you what kind of beast Stanley Johnson is. A couple weeks ago at the LeBron James Skills Academy he measured in at 235 pounds, standing 6-7.5 in sneakers. Of all the college players there, including juniors and seniors, only one player weighed more: 6-10 LSU sophomore Jarell Martin, 242 pounds.
And it’s not baby fat. Johnson has a rock solid physique, a testament to good genetics and a strong work ethic. As a senior in high school, he was physically ready to compete at the NBA level. It’s a shocking realization that he hasn’t even started a college strength and conditioning program yet.
But that’s old news, people were talking about Johnson’s physically advanced frame four years ago. It’s his skill level as a perimeter player that has developed rapidly over his high school career. He now has the body of a power forward, with the skillset of a wing player.
There aren’t many players like that at the college level, and that’s why the title of this article is a bit misleading. Stanley Johnson won’t need to “fit in” to the team, rather the team will be fitted to him. In the same way that Aaron Gordon’s defense quickly shaped the Wildcats’ identity last year, Johnson’s offensive game and physicality will shape their identity in the coming season.
That doesn’t mean he will lead Arizona in scoring, or even be the focal point of the offense. Sean Miller’s system doesn’t allow for star-centric play (the Derrick Williams year was an aberration, not the norm), and the Wildcats are simply too stacked with top flight players for any of them to put up superlative numbers. But the toughness and strength that Johnson brings to the court will eventually become the backbone of the team.
Johnson will also play a big part in stretching the floor next season, something that haunted the Cats at times last year. With Arizona’s size advantage against most teams, opponents will clog the paint if they aren’t a consistent threat from three point range. This is where Johnson could step in immediately and make a big impact. If Johnson shows that he can hit from outside, Arizona’s offense will come much easier.
Johnson has the compact, quick shooting motion that scouts look for in a perimeter shooter. He is also a confident shooter that has a high release point, two major positives working for him. While it remains to be seen how Johnson’s shooting will translate to the college game, he has the tools to be a knock down shooter. At 6-7.5, that’s a deadly weapon.
With Gordon and Nick Johnson going to the NBA, Arizona lost a big chunk of it’s trips to the free throw line. Despite his struggles shooting from the charity stripe, Gordon drew fouls at an incredible rate and helped put opposing teams in foul trouble.
Stanley Johnson’s physicality and skill with the ball make him a prime candidate to punish teams from the free throw line. There are simply not that many players who have the speed to stay with Johnson on the perimeter and the size and strength to handle him in the paint. As a result, look for Johnson to attack mismatches often and exploit them for free points.
The wing tandem he forms with Hollis-Jefferson will be formidable. Both are strong, quick with the ball, and have a nose for getting to the rim. That’s going to result in a lot of foul trouble for defenders. I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear people drop the nickname “slash brothers” at some point.
But with Hollis-Jefferson still honing his perimeter game and TJ McConnell looking to facilitate first, Johnson could be a big part of the Wildcat’s overall offensive attack. It’s within reason to expect a sort of two-headed offensive monster between Johnson and Brandon Ashley, who form an incredibly dynamic inside-out combo with either player capable of occupying either spot. The two-man game that could develop between Johnson and Ashley is a tantalizing prospect, and could make up the majority of Arizona’s offense next year.
You might be thinking that this article seems like an insult to Gabe York. It’s not. York is a fine player, who as a junior should still be able to have a meaningful role off the bench. But the best players play, and Johnson is the better player. Of course, if Johnson struggles to hit the perimeter shot or hits the proverbial freshman wall, York’s sharp shooting slots naturally into the starting lineup just as it did last year after Ashley’s injury.
But if I had to guess, I’d bet that Johnson earns a starting role from day one and hits the ground running.
So where will Johnson fit in? He’ll be so deeply ingrained in the DNA of the team that you’ll wonder how they ever played without him. He’s that good. We are firmly entrenched in the Impact Freshman Era of college basketball, and Johnson is the latest edition to come through Arizona. Enjoy it while it lasts.
To see more pictures of Stanley Johnson like the ones above, visit CassyAthena.com.