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Know The Prospect: Stanley Johnson

Faster than a Cleanthony Early. More powerful than a Justise Winslow. Able to leap tall defenders in a single bound. The Knicks have needs. Stanley Johnson has haves.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The first thing scouts note about lottery prospect Stanley Johnson is his defense. After just one season at Arizona, despite being only 19 and entering a man's league, Johnson's expected to contribute right away as a potential stopper at multiple positions. The second thing you may note about him's his loquaciousness - Walt Frazier would approve. You don't need any scouting reports to tell you this. Johnson's happy to.

"I can guard fours," he said at his Santa Barbara pre-draft workout. "I can guard Draymond Green. I can guard Kawhi Leonard. I can guard Mike Conley -- I can stay with him, at least. You guard people in stints; I can definitely stint the minutes for sure." Johnson's confidence doesn't seem to veer into delusionalism. He seems conscious of his limitations, acknowledging some challenges may be literally too big to handle at this stage of his development. "Maybe not Z-Bo. He's a big dude. Guys who are more finesse, guys who are slower, I can take care of them."

Of course, size is relative, and Johnson's a load himself: 6'7", 245 pounds, with a wingspan a shade under seven feet. By contrast, Justise Winslow, another lottery prospect prized for his physique, is an inch shorter, two inches shorter in wingspan, and 20 pounds lighter than Johnson, who comes by his physical gifts naturally: his mother, Karen Taylor, played professionally in Europe. Stanley went on to become the first California high-schooler to win four straight upper-division state titles. As a freshman at Arizona, he was the inaugural winner of the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award.

A closer look at Johnson's numbers from last year suggest a possible gold mine of upside. After a slow start shooting from distance, his mechanics and results improved. Johnson averaged 13.8 points per game and finished the year shooting 37% on 3s, 49% on pull-ups, and 44% on catch-and-shoot jumpers. Some of his numbers are similar to Winslow's, but it's worth noting Winslow played alongside a dominant scoring center in Jahlil Okafor and ranked third among Blue Devils in shots per game. Johnson led Arizona in shot attempts, and remarked at his Santa Barbara workout that the Wildcats' system did not afford him every opportunity to showcase his repertoire.

"I think there's skill to my game which I didn't get to show in college," he said. "We had a simple offense. How fast people were coming over to me, for me to get into my bag a little bit and try to do all that fancy stuff, it would result in zero points instead of me getting my two points off."

Johnson was strong on the boards, corralling 19% of available defensive rebounds. The concerns surrounding Johnson's transition to the pros center around his ability to finish in the paint and at the rim. Half his games came against teams that made the NCAA tournament; in those contests, Johnson made 38% of his shots at the rim and just 40% on shots in the paint, one of the lowest marks among top-100 prospects. What to make of these contradictory numbers? How do (or don't) they apply if he's a Knick next season? Check out the video below. There are more things in DraftExpress clips, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your analytics.

At the 1:40 mark, Johnson shows he knows how and when to use his size and strength to force his way to the basket and draw fouls. This self-awareness of his body and how to take advantage of the kind of mismatches a 250-pound small forward is likely to enjoy on the regs can come in handy on those possessions when there are 5 or fewer seconds left on the clock and Carmelo Anthony's doubled or having an off-night. Factor in Johnson's proficiency with pull-ups and catch-and-shoots and you have what could - could - be the Triangle safety valve the Knicks were missing all last year.

Check out Johnson's post-up game at the 2:00 mark. He isn't the Postmaster General at this point; he may never get there (dibs on the nickname if he does). But again: his size and strength will give him a physical advantage often enough that the reps alone are likely to lead to growth. Imagine Melo and Johnson together. How many teams would that pairing create a mismatch against?

At 5:40 you see evidence of Johnson as a multi-talented pick-and-roll player. He can split it, attack the basket, or pull up from distance. The more diversified the Knick offense becomes, the lesser the load on everyone from Melo on down. Derek Fisher ran more pick-and-rolls as the season progressed. A player like Johnson could open up the playbook even more. A player who can post, spot-up, run pick-and-roll, get out on the break, and hit midrange floaters and pull-ups would be like a dose of Cipro to the Knicks' sickly offense.

Johnson's defensive prowess can be seen at 7:10. Check out how he takes advantage of his strength and speed while defending pick-and-rolls to toggle between pressuring the ball handler into either giving it up while remaining capable of recovering in time to contest his original assignment's jumper or haranguing the driver into a tough shot. Unless there are radical rule changes on the horizon- unlikely, in light of the league enjoying both critical praise for the product on the floor (from the media) and commercial praise (ratings for this year's Finals not seen since the days of MJ) - every team's on the prowl for multi-positional defenders who can switch and disrupt whatever's thrown their way.

But man shall not live by effective on-the-ball defense alone. One need look no further than Iman Shumpert for examples of players who look lights-out when the action's right in front of them and look like the light switch never flipped on when defending weak-side movements off the ball. Note at the 8:30 mark how Johnson's instincts and athleticism work to his advantage defending screens. He shows an awareness for avoiding being screened; when he is screened, he's quick enough, big enough, and strong enough to recover and contest. 6'7" and 250 pounds running at one full-bore while one's lining up a jumper is no one's dream scenario.

Johnson averaged 2.1 steals per 40 minutes at Arizona, a credit to his aggressiveness and IQ, which can be seen at the 9:00 mark. Judging a defender off of steals is not wise. Latrell Sprewell arrived in New York renowned for his thievery, yet it took months for him to stop his high-risk gambling approach and adapt to Jeff Van Gundy's more consistent philosophy on defense. But couple all the other aspects of Johnson's defense (Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress points out opponents posted Johnson up 19 times last year, yielding a mere 8 points) with the steals and you're potentially painting the portrait of an all-around stopper, someone who knows how to leverage his brain and his brawn into something greater than the sum of the two. His defensive rating was 87.6. You can debate how meaningful that is, given all the vagaries of his teammates and opponents' varying talent levels. Still. 87.6 = 87.6.

At 2:30 in the clip below, Johnson remarks that he believes advancing to the pros will actually benefit him in finishing in the paint, claiming, "In the NBA, they don't call the charge that much." Famous last words, Stanley.

I don't know what his spin move is like on the court, but it's delightful off it.

He's got a little Timofey Mozgov in him...or at least he's better prepared for Joey Crawford than your average rookie (told you he's loquacious).

And while his defensive potential has many scouts raving, in the interest of balanced reporting it must be mentioned that Johnson did get dunked on once by his high school coach.

The chattering masses who leak draft rumors to cloud their team's true intentions create an impenetrable smog. It's impossible to know what's really "consensus" among "sources" and what's nothing more than people who like to watch the world burn. So far the consensus is Johnson isn't someone the Knicks would take as high as #4, but he could be a guy they have their eye on if they trade down. None of the names bandied about in these rumored packages, if any of these rumors are true, get my blood pumping (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist; Ty Lawson; Lance Stephen--oh, yeah. Whew!). But would I trade down for a legit asset and a lower lottery pick if I could land Johnson, too? I think I might. You know who'd definitely bet on Stanley Johnson? Stanley Johnson.