The Step Back

Looking into Stanley Johnson’s opening night effort

It was a rough, rough night for Stanley Johnson. Or was it?

There are a few different ways of looking at Johnson’s opening night performance. Here’s one of them:

And if you want to stop there, that’s fine. Taking 13 shots and missing 13 of them isn’t great. In fact, Johnson has topped a very unfortunate list of opening game shooting performances dating back to 1983. It’s nice being on a list with Andre Miller and Tony Parker, but maybe not this one.

However, things get a bit funkier once you sort the table by minutes played. Johnson is right near the top again, this time at No. 2. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that there was something more to his existence on the court than challenging Jacque Vaughn’s 22-Consecutive-Misses-To-Start-An-NBA-Season-Ew record in a stultifying seven quarters.

Read More: Stunningly accurate predictions for the Eastern Conference

Johnson played 40 minutes and 20 seconds last night. That was more than anyone else on his team. That was more than anyone on the Hornets. In fact, that was the sixth-most minutes played of anyone in the NBA on opening night. This was no accident.

I’d like you to watch this play, please:

Thank you. That was some nice hustle, right? Now watch this one:

Cody Zeller doesn’t even realize he’s there. Johnson senses a moment of weakness and strikes, like a cobra with awesome hair.

Johnson only had four rebounds, but one of them was counted through this hustle play on the offensive end:

If you take the shooting out of Johnson’s stat-line, everything else looks real nice. He had four steals with no turnovers, a single personal foul and a +/- of +6. He also had three pass deflections and chased down two loose balls. Everything that can imply a positive presence on the defensive end of the court is there. Just pretend the shooting is a pizza topping you don’t like and pick it off. The rest of the pizza is still there, and it’s still pretty good. I bet you get free pizza at Little Caeser’s Arena. I’ll find out and report back.

If you want to pick a single stat to counterbalance the 0-13 shooting, the Pistons allowed just 89.4 points per 100 possessions when Johnson was on the floor. Johnson managed to hold a team with Kemba Walker at the helm to nearly 20 points worse than what they averaged a year before. It’s a small sample size, but over 40 minutes it can’t be considered a fluke.

So yeah. 0-13 is still bad, but it’s not everything. There are more good signs in this extended effort than there are bad. Johnson’s shots will fall eventually because he is an NBA player and his shooting percentage last year was higher than 0 percent. Even if that does regress, there are things to be happy and hopeful about in Johnson’s game last night.

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