San Antonio Spurs may consider signing Stanley Johnson in free agency

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - MARCH 26: Stanley Johnson of the New Orleans Pelicans looks on during pre game warmups in a game against the Atlanta Hawks at Smoothie King Center on March 26, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Cassy Athena/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - MARCH 26: Stanley Johnson of the New Orleans Pelicans looks on during pre game warmups in a game against the Atlanta Hawks at Smoothie King Center on March 26, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Cassy Athena/Getty Images) /
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Former lottery-pick Stanley Johnson will hit the market as an unrestricted free agent and the San Antonio Spurs have shown interest in the past, could he be a fit?

With the start of free agency looming, the San Antonio Spurs are faced with a dilemma at the small forward position. The team’s marquee wing Rudy Gay will enter free agency after an exceptional season and a strong showing in the Spurs’ first-round defeat against Denver.

Both Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter – two players whose veteran presence and work ethic translated on and off the court – aren’t likely to return to the team next season after signing one-year deals last summer. Without a true small forward currently on the payroll, Gregg Popovich is slated to roll out a lineup with DeMar DeRozan, Lonnie Walker IV and Marco Belinelli occupying minutes at the small forward slot.

Elsewhere in the Southwest Division, the New Orleans Pelicans renounced an interesting wing in Stanley Johnson. The No. 8 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft has never been put in a situation that could utilize his raw skills the way that San Antonio’s coaches and trainers could. Johnson was traded midseason from Detroit, where he spent the previous three-and-a-half seasons of his career.

Without much cap flexibility to utilize, the Spurs could offer Johnson a low-risk contract while providing an emerging player with an opportunity to prove himself. The Athletic’s Jabari Young made a connection between the Spurs and Johnson through assistant general manager Brian Wright.

“If the Spurs are still searching for a wing, a name that could surface is Detroit’s Stanley Johnson.

The connection here: Spurs assistant GM Brian Wright was with the Pistons back in 2015 when the team drafted Johnson. Around the league, executives mentioned that Wright is still a big supporter of Johnson.”

There’s a lot of potential for Johnson as a two-way wing at 6-foot-7 with a seven-foot wingspan. Although he’s on the shorter side for a small forward in today’s game, Johnson combines a strong frame and impressive mobility that allows him to keep up with both wings and forwards on both ends of the court.

In only 13 minutes per game in 18 games as a Pelican, Johnson averaged 5.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 0.7 steals on 41.8 percent shooting from the field and 32.4 percent from three-point range. These numbers aren’t impressive, but the 23-year-old has shown off some important skills in his limited role.

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For players participating in 50 or more games, Johnson is tied for the ninth-best steal percentage ahead of some of the league’s best defenders like Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. His 103.4 defensive rating suggest that Johnson’s individual defense stands out despite being around instable defensive infrastructures between Detroit and New Orleans.

Johnson’s notoriety fell shortly after he was selected in 2015. The former Arizona Wildcat was a highly touted prospect coming out of his draft class because of his potential to become a secondary ball handler, pick-and-roll operator, shot creator and slashing savant. His exposure has been limited up to this point, but Johnson shows the occasional flash of the player he could become when given the chance.

Buford could opt to sign Johnson using a portion of the team’s mid-level exception, but they may be able to acquire him on a prove-it deal using their minimal cap space while allocating their exception elsewhere.

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It’s no secret that the Spurs are building a younger lineup around their veterans and Johnson could certainly develop along with that group.

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