Already carrying an Artest-like 245 pounds on a stout 6-foot-7 frame, it's hard to believe Stanley Johnson isn't even two full years removed from high school.
Yet, at just 19-years-old, Johnson is coming off a rookie season that saw him average 8.1 points and 4.2 rebounds off the bench for a Detroit Pistons team that made their first postseason appearance since 2009.
Squaring off with LeBron James in the first round, Johnson drew national attention for his willingness to step up to the challenge, spicing up the series by suggesting he was in James' head following a Game 2 Pistons loss.
Following an eventual sweep at the hands of James' Cavaliers, Johnson now heads into the first offseason of his young adult life in which he may finally be able to take a step back from the typically jam packed summer scene. On Thursday, Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy took a moment to discuss the perks of an offseason devoid of high stakes prospect runs.
"What happens with a lot of these young guys, and Stanley and I talked about it, is they don't really get or haven't had summers where they could take an extended period of time and really focus on Skill development," Van Gundy said. "They're always playing AAU, then with Stanley — USA basketball, then they have a summer where they're going to draft workout to draft workout to draft workout, then right after that they're going to summer league."
Throughout his rookie campaign, Johnson thrived in stepping up to any challenge placed before him, though his rough fundamental edges remained present. Whereas his body mass often made for easy work on the high school and college scene, Johnson's tendency for speedy straight-lined drives to the hoop often led to a litany of traveling violations, charges, and difficult shots inside of while he adjusted to the size and speed of NBA defense.
That reconciliation, between Johnson's drive to compete and the refinement of specific skills and abilities, is one that Van Gundy wishes to pursue this summer.
"What he doesn't have right now are NBA skills at the level he needs them," Van Gundy said. "He needs to improve his shooting, his footwork, his ball handling. He has to go and work on those things for months and months and months and improve his skill level to match his competitiveness.
"It's great that you want to go out there and compete but you need the skills to be able to do it and at this point he doesn't have them at the level that he needs them. And I don't say that as a negative, he's 19-years-old."
While he slowly developed as a corner specialist over the course of the 2016 season, Johnson's perimeter game remains relatively limited to spot-up duty. And even then, he connected on just 30.7 percent of his long range attempts. That's why Van Gundy believes an empty gym, not an open run, may better allow Johnson to diversify certain aspects of his game.
"I don't even want him playing, quite honestly," he said. "I want him to stay away from the Drew League and playing one-on-one with his boys and all of that. Because with him, I know what happens, he wants to win that game, he wants to show well in that game. That's great. But what that does is drive you right back to your strengths and playing the way you've always played. And he needs to change his approach in the offseason and really, really pay attention to his skills."
The never-ending abyss of constant runs, challenges, and one-upmanship is a symptom of the modern amateur basketball landscape, centered around reputation, rankings, and constant visibility. The result is a frequently short term approach in which prospects concern themselves with climbing the media rankings ladder as opposed to fleshing out a well-rounded game.
"It's all about showing," Van Gundy said. "Unfortunately, that's what AAU basketball has done. It's all about going out and competing against guys to say, 'Can I move up from being the 10th ranked junior in America to the 6th ranked junior in America?' They're out there playing, they're not in the gym like people used to be in the summers working on skills. It's all about going out and proving yourself."
The need to see an improvement in various facets of his game may even lead the organization to withhold Johnson from summer league play as a means of getting more reps in individual Skill Development.
"I don't need to see if Stanley's as good as the other guys in summer league," Van Gundy said. "We don't need to evaluate that. This is a summer of skill development for him and we will, at every step, try to do what's best for his skill development. Competitiveness and all of that is not ever going to be a problem with him."