Entering the 2014-15 college basketball season, nobody had really heard of D'Angelo Russell. Mario Hezonja and Kristaps Porzingas were merely fun names to say — they still are, of course, but they've developed more merit of late. Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor and Emmanuel Mudiay were all considered potential No. 1 overall picks. And Stanley Johnson was right behind them, leading the second tier of elite NBA prospects.
Johnson was ranked 7th in the nation in the ESPN Top 100 and No. 3 overall in the Rivals Top 150 in the Class of 2014. He had turned heads with his powerful drives and shooting ability, looking like an NBA wing even during his senior year of high school.
StanJohn is still that player. I have him ranked far higher on my board that most probably do. He's comfortably at No. 4 for me, right behind Towns, Russell and Hezonja. He's everything a prototypical NBA wing is supposed to be in this day an age. I think of him as a beefier Jimmy Butler, who sometimes attacks the rim with the force of James Harden when he's feeling it and it's his night.
The Pistons are in dire need of a game-changing wing player. Stan Van Gundy already has a big-little combo in Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, which many members of the Detroit office feel are legitimate franchise cornerstones. The Pistons also have Brandon Jennings under contract for one more season, and they may be able to solidify their front court even further if Detroit can improbably re-sign Greg Monroe this offseason.
That lineup is just missing a dynamic wing like Johnson. While he's being projected anywhere from Nos. 5-11 on draft boards, Johnson might have one of the best chances of anyone in this draft to grow into a legitimate No. 1 option in an NBA offense. He certainly is confident enough to shoulder that workload, according to several people in communication with his camp. He's a dual threat on the perimeter, having knocked down 37.1 percent from the outside in his lone season at Arizona while flashing the ability to get to the line and rim as well as rebounding amongst the trees.
At this point, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is not the answer on the perimeter for Detroit. Nabbing Stanley Johnson this late in the draft is an absolute steal for the Pistons.
Tomorrow, general manager Sohil makes the pick for the Charlotte Hornets at No. 9.