Stanley Johnson has brought in the size, athleticism and defensive skillset the Los Angeles Lakers missed in the first part of 2021-22 — particularly while experimenting with different small-ball lineups.
Head coach Frank Vogel has admitted his vision for L.A.’s centerless units involved Trevor Ariza anchoring the defense as one of the few wing defenders on the roster. Ariza’s preseason injury derailed Vogel’s plans, making the Lakers’ formations featuring Anthony Davis or LeBron James at the five vulnerable on the defensive end.
Johnson’s arrival has ameliorated that problem by adding extra hustle and physicality to L.A.’s small-ball lineups and diminishing the lack of size on the floor. Together with the 25-year-old’s grind and hard work, Vogel said the forward adds something unique to his team’s roster — and allows the coaching staff to better prepare for certain matchups.
“He definitely does,” the head coach said after Friday’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers. “The thinking there, without Anthony [Davis], we’re managing a little bit on a game-to-game basis based on matchups.
“You play a game like Houston, Christian Wood starting at the center, that’s a clear like ‘yeah, let’s put Bron at center.’ That’s an easy one. Next game, Steven Adams, the biggest and strongest guy in the league, let’s play Dwight at center, that’s an easy one. These next few games in the middle, there’s gonna be a lot of in-between types of decisions that we’ll have to make on a game-by-game basis.
“Tonight, with what we saw in Stanley is just a little bit more foot speed with the Dame Lillard double teams. There wasn’t a Nurkic out there that could really impose his size on us. So it’ll kind of be on a game-to-game basis, but that’s what we saw tonight and Stanley was great in that regard.”
Johnson’s immediate impact earned him a starting spot in the Lakers’ last two games. Still, Vogel said L.A. is yet to make a decision on Johnson’s future beyond the 10-day contract he signed in December.
“We’ll see,” Vogel said before the win over the Blazers.
“We’re gonna use the whole time to evaluate Stanley. I think he’s done a great job for us so far. His toughness and hustle is something that I think our team really needs. So he’s provided a valuable role in that regard and we’ll continue to evaluate him during the duration of his 10-day.”
Vogel points out Johnson’s physicality ahead of Sunday’s matchup with Timberwolves
The Lakers roster’s shortcomings perhaps haven’t been more exposed this season than they were in the two losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
L.A. got outscored by 42 points combined while Timberwolves star center Karl Anthony-Townes thrived in the two games against the Purple and Gold, averaging 28.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists.
After the win over the Blazers, Vogel said he hadn’t thought too much about the upcoming third game of the season series. But the head coach admitted to being glad that the Lakers will have Johnson’s physicality on the floor against Minnesota on Sunday.
“We don’t even know if [Anthony-Towns] is in, I haven’t really spent a lot of time thinking about that game yet,” Vogel said.
“But he’s one of those guys that obviously, he has the size and he has the perimeter game that makes those decisions difficult. I haven’t put a lot of thought into how we’ll go yet, but it’s gonna be on a game-to-game basis and we’re alright with that. But the thing about Stanley I like is the physicality he has.
“He’s not just a quicker guy but he’s strong as hell too so we’ll see.”
Towns is currently in health and safety protocols and may miss the game on Sunday, so the Lakers may have caught a break in that regard this time around.
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