The Los Angeles Lakers have had an offense problem all season. There are plenty of excuses to be listed for why it’s happened, but it’s still peculiar that a team with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Malik Monk currently ranks 24th in offensive rating on the season. Luckily, the offense seems to be turning around lately as the team has the 4th-ranked offensive rating in the past four games, with that rating partly being attributed to the promising play from one Stanley Johnson.
Now, of course, it also helps to be getting the flamethrowing LeBron James who is (now) also busting his ass on both sides of the floor. I’m not going to sit here and act like this offensive resurgence is all because of Stanley Johnson. Hell, even Westbrook has been a far better and more efficient contributor on that end lately when compared to his season as a whole.
But Johnson does bring an offensive package that most of the names listed above do not bring. Now, I say most as LeBron can do everything that Johnson brings to the team (and more). But Westbrook, Anthony, Monk, and Davis can’t do some of the things I discuss below that truly make Stanley Johnson a little swiss pocket knife for the Lakers to deploy.
With Frank Vogel’s team-wide shift to playing the younger, more energetic players on the team, Johnson has received an increased total of minutes that’s allowing him to showcase his offensive skills even more. He’s averaged 21.8 minutes per game on the season as a whole, but in that recent four-game stretch where the Lakers have a top-five offense, Johnson is averaging 28.4 minutes per game. In those minutes he is averaging 10.3 points and 4.3 assists per game, with the assists ranking only below LeBron and Westbrook for the best marks on the team.
Those assists have mostly come from Johnson catching the ball on the perimeter and driving, showing vision that only pales in comparison to the two stars above him. You can see most of his assists in the video below, with most of them showing he has a great give-and-go, two-man game with LeBron as well as an ability to put the ball in the perfect spot for Dwight Howard, something that will translate even better to Anthony Davis and his much better athleticism once he returns.
Working on a piece for @LakersOutsiders about Stanley Johnson's play lately. Here's a video of most of his assists lately. Such an underrated playmaker pic.twitter.com/36acOUEZ4G
— Donny McHenry (@donny_mchenry) March 26, 2022
His 10.3 points per game in the last four is a large step-up from the 6.4 mark he has on the season as a whole, as Johnson has shown a floater and pull-up game in the middle of the floor that defenses have struggled to counter. The defense’s inability to stop Johnson’s scoring from that intermediate area of the floor most likely stems from the passing ability he has from that same area, as Johnson may arguably be the second-best decision-maker on the team.
Below you can see those mid-range floaters, pull-ups, and drives to the rim that seem so easy to him.
Johnson also shows how he can be a great partner for LeBron with his cutting, as he’s been found many times lately as well as throughout the season on his dashes to the rim.
Earlier I made somewhat of a bold statement, insinuating that Johnson’s offensive skills are more useful than that of Westbrook, Carmelo, Monk, and anyone not named LeBron. That’s due to his ability to playmake in between the 3-point line and the rim, something that those other players just don’t have.
Sure, Carmelo can isolate and score in the mid-range with the best of the best in the league, but he doesn’t have the passing vision that Stanley Johnson has. Westbrook is at his best when he lives at the rim, but with no floater or perimeter shooting game, he’s had troubles succeeding within this team of players that have little perimeter shooting themselves. And as for Monk, although he has great ability of getting to the rim and scoring from deep, he doesn’t come close to exhibiting the passing and scoring that Johnson can do in the middle of the floor.
Johnson’s exclusive and unique skillset will surely help the Lakers the rest of the regular season as well as the postseason (no matter how long or short that lasts). But more than that, he seems to be a player that can really help LeBron and Davis while playing alongside them, especially when you add in his defensive abilities which are some of the best on the team.
Because of that, Johnson will almost certainly be an important part of the rest of this season, but next year as well as the Lakers have a team option to guarantee his contract for the 2022-23 season.