Yesterday afternoon, just hours after Raptors fans on the East coast had woken up to the tragic news of Kawhi Leonard heading to the Clippers, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that Stanley Johnson would be making his way to Toronto on a two-year, $7.5M deal with a player option for the 2020-2021 season. It’s a consolation signing at most, given what we are dealing with right now, but before you disregard Johnson as someone who’s just here to lace up for a couple seasons, take a closer look at who he is.
The Anaheim native is no Kawhi, but he is a solid pickup for the Raptors.
Stanley already has a formidable relationship with Drake, after he put on a show at the Toronto icon’s annual basketball tournament: OVO Bounce, dropping 86 points in the championship game, and leading his team to victory in 2017. Not to mention the fact that he’s a fan of Drake too, featuring lyrics from Yes Indeed in his Instagram bio, and also using Do Not Disturb as the soundtrack to his latest mixtape.
Aside from his feats and his hip-hop interests, here are some things that “Stanimal”, as he calls himself will bring to the team:
In an article from Business Insider earlier this year, word got out of what Kawhi Leonard was like in college. To sum it up in two words: hilariously unorthodox. Anyone who has ever played team basketball before knows the concept of help defense: where if one defender loses their man, someone else will have to step in to help cover their teammates mistake. It is the most basic, ancient defensive tactic, yet Kawhi questioned it back at San Diego State. “I don’t get it, coach. Why can’t they just stay in front of their man like I do?” he asked. Simply, not everyone is as incredible defensively as you, Kawhi. Unfortunately for him, he never had the opportunity to play with Stanley Johnson: one of the few guys in the league who is capable of guarding multiple positions, and more times than not, won’t require any help on the defensive end. Raptors fans will remember his defensive abilities very well (as will Kawhi), from his showdown with Leonard early last season, where he went toe-to-toe with the Klaw, and forced him into several turnovers and a couple missed shots, to lead the Pistons over the Raptors in Dwane Casey’s return.
Johnson’s ability to guard the other team’s best player on any given night allows the rest of the Raptors squad to essentially play 4-on-4 basketball, thus simplifying everyone else’s job, and giving Nick Nurse some freedom to experiment with unconventional defensive schemes.
The Raptors roster right now is not what it will be on opening night. With only 11 players under contract, Ujiri and Webster will have to add at least 2 more guys by the start of training camp to comply with CBA regulations. Regardless of who else will be wearing the red and white in October, the Raptors already have some good internal competition amongst the wing players. After the departures of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, both starting wing positions are vacant, and waiting to be filled. As we have already figured out with Nick Nurse, his players must earn every minute they get, and he’s not afraid to switch up the starting lineup. As of right now, the 5 wings on the roster are Matt Thomas, Norman Powell, Malcolm Miller, OG Anunoby, and Stanley Johnson. It is likely that one of Matt Thomas or Norman Powell will win the spot for starting shooting guard, and one of OG Anunoby or Stanley Johnson will win the spot for starting small forward. Regardless of how it plays out, all season there will be battles among these five guys in practice, with all of them striving, and sacrificing to get better, which will ultimately make the team better. If Stanimal and OG, two great, young defenders with a lacking offensive game and something to prove, can force each other to develop just by playing against each other for hours every day, the results will pay dividends to a franchise that has been waiting to see who their next underdog to develop will be.
Johnson’s story is similar to that of Pascal Siakam. Siakam’s father had a dream to see one of his sons play in the NBA, but he passed away before Siakam fulfilled the prophecy. Stanley Johnson’s mother, Karen Taylor, had big hopes for her son too. Taylor was a basketball star in her own right, having been inducted to the Jackson State Hall of Fame in 2009, after retiring from her professional career overseas. From the time Stanley was 5 years old, until he was 14, his mother was his coach. She pushed him to get better, and is responsible for the work ethic that lives within him today. In an ESPN article, she said “I built him so that he would believe in himself.” Unfortunately, just weeks after Stanley was drafted in 2015, Karen lost her battle to cancer, and passed away.
On an episode of NBA XL in November of 2017, NBA TV Canada’s Randy Urban had the opportunity to catch up with Stanimal, where he was able to show his maturity as just a 21-year-old. “Every night, every day, at night when you sleep, when you’re off the court, when you’re on the court, you have to be consistent with every little thing, to be consistent in the game, which is a big thing” Johnson said. Most players don’t realize that consistency is the key to longevity until they’re in their mid 20’s, yet Stanley is focused on fixing his whole life routine to make that a part of his game at such a young age. Regardless of what Stanley adds on the court this season, Raptors fans can be assured that they are getting a top-class human being, who works his butt off every single day.