While things are coming apart at the seams all around the Lakers currently, with problems ranging from head coach to starting point guard, one of the bright spots on the season continues to be the play of Stanley Johnson.
After a recent stretch where he had cooled off, Johnson exploded for a season-high 15 points in Monday’s win over the Utah Jazz, doing it while playing small ball center against one of the league’s elite defensive centers in Rudy Gobert. Prior to that contest, head coach Frank Vogel spoke on Johnson’s position within the franchise as he plays out his third 10-day contract.
“We’re in a phase right now where we have to keep as much flexibility with our roster as we can, and I believe that’s all that’s been communicated between Rob Pelinka and Stanley’s agent,” Vogel said. “But what I’ve seen from Stanley is that he’s one of our best defenders. He brings great energy, effort, toughness, physicality and versatility to the defensive side of the ball, and there’s an element of him playing small-ball center and being able to switch and really guard on the perimeter, and take centers out of certain actions.
“There’s a lot of things that he brings to the table on that side, and he’s learning the way we want him to play,” Vogel continued. “But everything we’re doing right now is to just try and keep as much flexibility as we can.”
Johnson has remained a vitally important piece of the Lakers given their current philosophy of playing small. While he still has limitations and the fact his mere presence has such a huge impact on the Lakers illustrated just how poorly the roster was constructed, that hasn’t taken away from the fact that Johnson has embraced his role and excelled in it.
Since his debut on Christmas, only four Lakers rotation players have a positive net rating. Johnson is among them, alongside Carmelo Anthony, Austin Reaves and Malik Monk. In that same span, the team is 5.4 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court than off.
And yet, despite those numbers, the Lakers are making the right decision in maintaining their flexibility with Johnson. With the team in so much flux right now, all options should be on the table, and the Lakers shouldn’t unnecessarily handcuff themselves when it comes to roster flexibility, particularly with Johnson being on the same page with the franchise in that regard.
Given his importance to the team, it’s hard to imagine Johnson won’t be a part of the team moving forward the remainder of this season after his current 10-day expires on Jan. 26. In the meantime, the Lakers will look to remain flexible as they try to improve their roster and save what is increasingly looking like a lost season.