Thoughts After Spurs Sign Stanley Johnson

The San Antonio Spurs have signed 26-year-old Stanley Johnson to a one-year contract. Johnson was the eighth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons. He also played for the New Orleans Pelicans and Toronto Raptors before spending last season with the Los Angeles Lakers. 

As SpursTalk previously reported, the Spurs were planning to cut Alize Johnson once their big men returned from injury. Last game, after missing five contests due to injury, Jeremy Sochan returned in San Antonio’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Hours later, the Spurs followed through on their plan by waiving Alize to make room for Stanley and complete the Johnson swap.

Here are some quick thoughts after the Spurs completed this transaction:

-Stanley Johnson has a legitimate chance of cracking San Antonio’s rotation. He’ll instantly be one of the better perimeter defenders on the Spurs. He’s a big wing with quick feet who plays with strength. The Spurs didn’t really have anyone on the roster who’s capable of defending oversized wings at a high level. Johnson could potentially do that.

With Romeo Langford sidelined at least for tonight against the Portland Trail Blazers, Johnson could already be the Spurs best perimeter defender. 

-One reason why I like this signing is that Keldon Johnson and Stanley Johnson should make a good pairing. When on the floor together, K. Johnson will be able to stay at small forward — which, long-term, is the best position for him. S. Johnson can play at power forward. While he’s only 6-foot-6, he weighs more than 240 pounds and can hold his own in the paint. 

Before S. Johnson, when Pop wanted to go small in order to defend quick lineups, he shifted K. Johnson to power forward. Now Pop can go small while keeping KJ at SF.

-One reason I don’t like this signing is because Stanley Johnson has a relatively low ceiling. As a rebuilding team, I think the Spurs should be on the hunt for higher upside players. Johnson made his NBA debut more than seven years ago — so he is what he is at this point. He’s a strong, quick perimeter defender but he can sometimes lose focus on that end. 

Offensively, Johnson has always been well below league average. He’s a career 38.4% shooting from the field and a career 30% three-point shooter. Johnson has been criticized for his lack of touch in the paint going all the way back to his one year at Arizona. While he’s actually a better than expected passer, his lack of perimeter shooting and interior touch results in opponents basically ignoring him on the offensive end.

-It’s safe to say this was a Brian Wright move. Stanley Johnson was Wright’s first ever pick back when he was overseeing the draft for the Detroit Pistons. Wright has always had positive things to say about Johnson and what he brings on and off the court. 

Wright’s second pick while with the Pistons was Darrun Hilliard, who the Spurs signed prior to the 2017-18 season. Hilliard ended up playing 14 games for San Antonio before embarking on a successful overseas career.

-If you’re rooting for the Spurs to make a push for a spot in the Play-In Tournament, you should be happy about the Stanley Johnson signing. First of all, he should help San Antonio improve their league-worst defense. Secondly, he’s likely to take minutes away from Keita Bates-Diop, who has quietly been this team’s tank commander. 

As stated in the recent Progress Report, the Spurs have been better this season when Bates-Diop isn’t playing. In fact, in the nine games the Spurs have won this season, he has played a grand total of 52 minutes. Is it a coincidence that the Spurs are on a three-game winning streak and Bates-Diop has missed the last three games with a foot sprain? Time will tell.

-Previously, it was expected that the Spurs could fill the roster spot created by waiving Alize Johnson to fortify their point guard position. However, a few things have changed in the meantime. Firstly, Blake Wesley is getting close to returning to the court. When he originally tore the MCL in his knee, there was a chance that the Spurs could sit him for the entire season if his rehab didn’t go smoothly.

Second of all, Pop looks to really be set on the idea of Jeremy Sochan playing point guard. Last game, Sochan was the backup point guard and didn’t play any other position. Considering he began his rookie campaign as the team’s starting power forward, that’s quite a change of plans.

-The Spurs signing a veteran like Stanley Johnson isn’t too surprising, especially because there were whispers that the Spurs were kicking around the idea of signing Isaiah Thomas. 

That said, considering how poorly Johnson played while in the G League this season, the move has to be considered at least somewhat of a surprise. Over the course of three games with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, he played 58 minutes and had more turnovers (9) and fouls (10) than points (7). Johnson was also only 2-for-16 from the field, including 1-for-11 on three-pointers.

Obviously, that’s a small sample size — but that’s not the type of production you’d expect from someone in the G League who gets signed by an NBA team.