On Thursday, the Toronto Raptors announced that they have signed forward Stanley Johnson.
The Athletic's Shams Charania reported over the weekend that Johnson's contract will be for $7.5 million over two years, with the second year being a player option.
Free agent Stanley Johnson has agreed to a two-year, $7.5M deal with the Toronto Raptors, with a player option in the second season, agent Nima Namakian of BDA Sports tells @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium.- Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 6, 2019
To understand what type of prospect the Raptors are getting in Johnson, there are two numbers you need to know: 11 and 98.
The former is where Johnson ranked last season among small forwards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus, a statistic created by ESPN that measures a player's "estimated on-court impact on team defensive performance." It's not a perfect indicator of who the best defenders are at a particular position - Leonard ranking nearly 30 spots below Johnson on the season should make that clear - but it goes to show what the 23-year-old is capable of doing on that end of the floor.
In fact, Johnson's defensive potential was one of the reasons the Detroit Pistons selected him with the No. 8 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, ahead of Myles Turner and Devin Booker. The combination of his size (6-foot-7 and 245 pounds) and length (7-foot wingspan) give him the tools match up with at least three positions, making him a perfect fit on a Raptors team that already has several switchable defenders in Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam.
MORE: Fast facts on Stanley Johnson
The Raptors got a close look at Johnson's versatility early last season when Dwane Casey, now the head coach of the Pistons, made his return to Toronto. According to NBA.com, Johnson defended Leonard for a total of 17 possessions and limited him to two points on 1-for-3 shooting from the field. Johnson forced Leonard into committing five turnovers as well, all coming in the fourth quarter when the Pistons mounted a huge comeback that culminated in Reggie Bullock hitting the game-winner.
It was perhaps Johnson's most memorable defensive showing of the season, but he spent time guarding a number of other All-Stars to varying levels of success, from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant to James Harden and Ben Simmons. That experience of guarding the league's best players could come in handy for the Raptors come playoff time.
Johnson's defence alone makes him an interesting signing by the Raptors, especially in wake of Leonard's departure. His fit on offence, however, is much more complicated.
That 98 number? It's where Johnson ranked last season among small forwards in Offensive Real Plus-Minus, putting him dead-last at his position. He averaged 6.9 points in 66 games with the Pistons and New Orleans Pelicans last season, doing so on 38.9 percent shooting from the field, which - believe it or not - marked a new career-high.
Johnson was primarily a spot-up shooter on the Pistons, almost by necessity with the team being built around Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. It resulted in more than half of his field goal attempts with the team last season being 3-pointers despite him making only 28.2 percent of those opportunities.
Johnson wasn't much better in previous seasons, either. The only time he's made more than 30.0 percent of his 3-point attempts over an entire season was in 2015-16, back when he was a rookie. (He made 32.4 percent of his 3-point attempts with the Pelicans last season, but it was on a much smaller sample size over 18 games).
Johnson has clearly been miscast as a shooter, but he hasn't shown enough to believe he's capable of being a primary or secondary creator on a winning team, some of which is to be expected for a player as young as he is. For example, Johnson ran far more pick-and-rolls in New Orleans than he did in Detroit, only he ranked in the 17th percentile with 0.67 points per possession. He averaged a career-best 4.1 assists per 36 minutes with the Pelicans, but his turnovers also spiked, to the point where he basically had a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
If there's something the Raptors will immediately look to make use of, it's Johnson's willingness to get out in the open court, where he generated over a quarter of his offence as a member of the Pistons last season. He once again struggled with efficiency, but running the floor with Lowry and Siakam will likely lead to easier looks than the ones he got in Detroit.
Led mostly by those two - Lowry as an initiator and Siakam as a finisher - the Raptors scored the third-most transition points in the league last season. The Pistons, for comparison, finished in the bottom half of the league in transition scoring.
Additionally, Johnson has flashed some potential as a scorer with his back to the basket over the last couple of years. Those plays have never made up much of his offence, but his size gives him a natural advantage against smaller defenders on switches. As he continues to develop the rest of his game, it could be a way for him to establish himself as a scoring threat when he's on the floor.
If nothing else, Johnson gives the Raptors another Anunoby-like prospect - a plus defender who is very much a work in progress on offence - at a position of need. For the contract they signed him to, it's a worthwhile gamble in what is now the dog days of free agency. If all goes to plan, Johnson will help them be competitive this season and decline his player option for 2020-21 to either re-sign with the Raptors or sign a more lucrative contract with another team. If it doesn't, Johnson will be only be on Toronto's books for two seasons at a low cost.
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