Stanley Johson of Mater Dei makes impact in NBA, said to be most-skilled player at defending LeBron James

By Dan Arritt     1/14/2019

In the long and decorated history of the Mater Dei boys’ basketball program, nobody’s resume stands out like the one put together by Stanley Johnson. 

  • Four-time state champion with the Monarchs
  • Freshman of the year in the Pac-12
  • Top 10 NBA draft pick


Some would say Johnson finally met his match in the NBA, however. 

Halfway through his fourth year with the Detroit Pistons, Johnson has yet to average double figures in scoring over a full season, or shoot better than 40 percent from the floor. 

Johnson appeared on course to buck that trend after averaging 10.2 points shooting 42.7 percent in November, but a bothersome knee kept him out three games in early December and he only scored in double figures once over the next 11 games. 

The good thing is, Johnson has played long enough that he’s learned to focus on his strengths and not get burdened by his weaknesses. 

“In past years, I wanted to do so many things on the court, especially a guy like me who’s not really great at anything, but good at a lot of things,” Johnson told The Detroit News. “You want to do everything and, sometimes, that’s not what’s best for you, in general and for our team. 

Johnson seemed to do it all for Mater Dei.  

He was a 6-foot-5 and 14 1/2 years old when he played his first game for the Monarchs in the fall of 2010. Three months later, Johnson was pulling down 15 rebounds in the CIF-State Division I championship game victory against Concord De La Salle. 

He led the Monarchs to four straight Division I state titles, capping his final year with an undefeated season. 

That elite level of play and leadership continued at the University of Arizona, where he led the Wildcats to Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles followed by a trip to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. 

Professional scouts were paying close attention. After one season at the college level, Johnson opted to enter the NBA draft. He was chosen eighth overall by the Pistons on June 25, 2015. 

Two months after turning 19, he signed a 4-year, $12.85 million contract. 

Johnson made his first shot in his first preseason game, drawing cheers from the scattered crowd in Detroit. He went on to score 26 points that night. 

But popularity in the NBA can be fleeting. Even consistency can be difficult to achieve and maintain. Johnson has scored at least 26 points just one other time with the Pistons, preseason or otherwise. 

He remains popular with his coaches and teammates, however.  

Johnson is especially lauded for his ability to defend every position on the floor, a skill he developed under Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight.  

“He’s a rare breed in that sense, a guy who’s quick enough to stay with the faster guys and strong enough to stay with the bigger guys,” teammate Blake Griffin told the Detroit News. “He has the right combination to pick which strength to use, depending on the matchup.” 

Detroit coach Dwane Casey said Johnson is the most skilled player in the NBA at defending LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, a four-time league MVP. 

The Lakers hosted the Pistons on Jan. 9, and they meet again March 15 in Detroit.