Eye on the Draft: Stanley Johnson

With Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and James Young all signed through the 2015-16 season, it's safe to say the Boston Celtics have a solid foundation in the backcourt heading into the end of this year and beyond. The frontcourt is an entirely different story.

Many point to the center position as the Celtics most important area to fill. But atleast they've got young talent in Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk locked up for a couple years that can both play the 5. Could they use an improvement there? No doubt, but is it really the biggest area of need?

Probably, but let's play devil’s advocate. What about the small forward position? It's possible James Young could play the wing in the future, but can he handle the task defensively? Jae Crowder has shown promise after being acquired from Dallas in the Rajon Rondo deal, but he would need to be re-signed. They have Evan Turner locked in for another year, as well as Gerald Wallace. But as much as Turner & Wallace have shown veteran leadership and played hard while in Boston, I don't think any Celtics fan would be up in arms if management decided to shuffle up and try a new hand at small forward.

Arizona's Stanley Johnson stands out as a potential option for the C's should they choose to go that route in the draft. This guy is a defensive machine. At 6'7" and 245 pounds, he's got a football-like frame with a 6'11" wingspan. That size allows him to get up under his opponent when on-ball, and deflect passes and create havoc when playing off the ball. His offensive game could use some tweaking, but he's a solid ball handler and passer for his size, and works well in pick and roll sets and in transition. His jump shot is his weakness, but Johnson is a more than capable shooter when given space.

ESPN's Chad Ford has compared him to Ron Artest, some high praise. His colleague Kevin Pelton suggests a more modest comparison and thinks he's a Thaddeus Young/Luol Deng type. He's a banger for sure. He is going to invite contact and make others fear it.

In his high school years in California, Johnson led Mater Dei High School to four state championships in four years. He is something of a living legend in his hometown of Fullerton, CA. Though he's not the superstar type of player that his resume may suggest, his competitiveness is often unmatched. Not a lot of flash to his game offensively, but he is a natural winner, understanding of his role and with a good basketball IQ.

Johnson is a bulky small forward at 245 lbs. Add to that a high motor and confidence through the roof, and you've got a wing that is going to be a royal pain in the ass for his opposition nightly in the NBA. The area scouts are downgrading him for is his poor percentage at the rim and his inconsistent jump shot. His scouting report out of high school suggested that he short-arms many of his jumpers without a fluid release.

This was obviously an area Arizona coach Sean Miller worked on with him early this season.

Some stats via ESPN Insider Chad Ford: Through January 6th of this season, Johnson was shooting 52% from 2-point field goal range and 45% from 3-point range. He has since cooled off though, as those numbers have dropped to 48% from inside the arc, and 35% from beyond it.

He's also struggled at the rim proving he may have trouble seperating from defenders in the paint.

Johnson holds averages of 13.9 points, 7 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game for the 28-and-3 Wildcats as they head into March Madness. He was just named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and is Arizona's leading scorer, despite his shot that scouts have been so critical of.

His size and confidence allow him to hide how flawed & flat his form is on offense. He’s going to have trouble against taller, stronger defenders. But he's no slouch. The kid can score when he's open. Just don't expect him to be the nightly team leader in points for an NBA team early on. He does not project into that kind of superstar. One of the reasons for that, a lack of elite athleticism. Via NBADraft.net: "Johnson really struggles jumping off of two feet (needing momentum), and does not have a big vertical by any means."

The knock on his vertical may be warranted, but he doesn’t have cement feet either. Johnson took home the dunk contest honors at the Arizona Red-Blue scrimmage game this year. He may not have the hops of former Wildcat Aaron Gordon, but with his strength & skill he shouldn’t need that kind of bounce to make a difference. He is going to be a game changer, though likely one that starts out as a role player and will have to earn major minutes. But that shouldn't take too long.

The aforementioned Chad Ford has him ranked #12 on his big board released today. Draftexpress.com ranks him #5, as does CBSSports.com's Sam Vecenie.

There are clearly some conflicting opinions, and some teams will value players like D'Angelo Russell, Kelly Oubre or Justice Winslow over him for the offense, but it is clear Johnson is destined for the lottery.

Johnson looks to be ideally the third or fourth star for an NBA team in the future. He is not likely to to become the focal point of anyone's offense, but that doesn't mean he can't become an All-Star caliber player. The Artest comparisons should not be taken lightly by fans or his future foes in the NBA. This kid is a straight up beast who is going to cause headaches galore for wings with his physicality. I already can't wait to see him face up against Lebron!

This probably isn't the kind of player that fits perfectly into the Celtics' draft plans. They need offensive help from the wing and could use someone who could hit the deep ball a little more consistently. But just imagine the threat posed defensively by a trio of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson.. Teams wouldn't be able to get the ball past the half court line!

He'll need to build on a solid freshman season where he's shown his rugged fearlessness against opponents and led Arizona to a top 5 ranking in the AP poll heading into tourny time. Whether or not he hits his shots down the stretch (and in the tournament in the spotlight) will tell whether he rises or falls on NBA draft boards, but it’d be hard to see him fall out of the lottery barring injury. He has the body of an NBA veteran as an 18 year old.

Plenty of upside with Stanley Johnson. Not sure he’s the right option for Boston at the moment, but if he’s there when they make their pick he is going to be a hard one to pass up.

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Top photo: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
Celts photo: Getty Images
H.S. Photo: David Stuetel-MaxPreps