Photo by: Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press
The Lakers, even with three future Hall of Famers in tow, face one of the most uncertain outlook in the association. For a hot minute, it seemed like the Westbrook for Irving swap was a certainty, knowing how both superstar guards wore out their welcome with their teams. As the Nets and Lakers continue to posture, we will focus on one of the few players the Lakers have under contract, Stanley Johnson.
Deemed a future star when he was drafted as the 8th overall pick in the 2015, Johnson was essentially out of the league when the Lakers signed him to a 10-day contract via the hardship exemption last December. Written off as a bust after falling out of favor in Detroit, Johnson had a brief stint with the Pelicans before spending time with the Raptors from 2020 to 2021. He showed flashes of brilliance in Toronto, even starting 13 games in his last season there. Unfortunately, two of their best players in Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby play the same position, making Johnson the odd man out.
Laker fans understandably welcomed Johnson with modest expectations. After all, Johnson flamed out everywhere he went and the only reason he was available was no one wanted him. The Lakers were also in dire straits and just needed some warm body.
Years after proclaiming that he was going to be the Rookie of the Year, confident (as he should) that he was the best player in his draft class, Johnson came in thankful just to still be in the league. Johnson is much more self-aware now and understands that this might well be his last shot staying states side. A workhorse since high school, Stanley played like a man possessed, playing unrelenting defense against the opposition’s best scorer every night.
It was far from perfect. He was still erratic on offense and his three-point shooting (31%) didn’t exactly make fans forget about KCP, but LeBron loves playing with someone like Johnson. A demon on defense and a willing shooter when LeBron kicks the ball out after drawing the entire defense to himself.
Johnson had a couple of games where he took over offensively. One was when he took over late and went straight at Rudy Gobert in successive possessions to will the Lakers over the Jazz. We might not see too many of those games from him this coming season, but what he gives the Lakers is his availability, durability, and consistency in providing maximum effort and energy on the defensive end.
Stanley Johnson and the rest of the NBA fandom are now on the same page. He will not be mentioned as one of the best two-way wings in the mold of Kawhi Leonard, Ron Artest, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James, and that is not a bad thing because Stanley Johnson finally found his place in the NBA.