Stanley Johnson, a rookie forward for the Detroit Pistons, has drawn the unenviable task of sticking LeBron James for much of the time he's been on the floor for Detroit in their first round series.
Most rookies are pretty deferential to stars in this league, and can be downright timid on the court. Well, Mr. Johnson has been anything but, and lit into LeBron after the Cavaliers blowout Game 2 win on Wednesday night, per ESPN's Nick Friedell, who tweeted from the postgame presser.
Stanley Johnson on LeBron: "I'm definitely in his head. That's for sure."— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) April 21, 2016
Stanley Johnson on LeBron: "I wish he would just talk when [the game] is 0-0, not when he's up 16."— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) April 21, 2016
Johnson on LBJ/Cavs: "He jabbers. He moves his mouth sometimes. Their whole team does, kind of like their little cheerleaders on the bench."— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) April 21, 2016
Well, this is preeetty weird in a couple of ways.
First of all, if Johnson is in James' head, I'd shudder to see what LeBron would be doing to the Pistons if his head was free of Johnson's torment. James scored 27 points on 12-18 shooting from the field in Game 2, and per ESPN Stats and Info, Lebron scored 15 of those points on 7-9 shooting with Johnson as his primary defender.
Stanley Johnson isn't the first role player to feud with James. I think we all remember the DeShawn Stevenson/Souljah Boy tag team. Lance Stephenson blew in LBJ's ear when he was in Miami. Even during last year's playoffs, Kent Bazemore wasn't the biggest fan of the King.
This makes sense. Most of these players are operating at an enormous disadvantage physically, and skill-wise. They need to find an edge to take LeBron out of his game, and talking trash is the oldest trick in the book. Hell, the famous Lance Stephenson blow was, in a funny anecdote from Fox Sports social media producer Amara Baptist, confirmed as an act of desperation.
He said, and I quote, "that's the only way he could stop that (bad word). He tried everything else and nothing worked."— Amara Baptist (@ABaptist27) March 30, 2016
What a night.
Note: There's obviously no way to prove that he really was Lance's first cousin, but if you don't want to believe that without questioning it, why should you believe in anything?
Stanley Johnson is just the latest in a long-line of hopeful LeBron stoppers. He's got a really great future in this league as a member of one of the most promising rookie classes we've seen in years, and if he develops a consistent jumper, he likely has a place in this league for a long time. Confidence matters, and Johnson's certainly not afraid of the moment. That's commendable.
That said, baiting LeBron obviously hasn't historically worked, as there's only so much poking of the bear that can be done before he's just made angry. LeBron is too good for most of these players, and there's no shame in that.
Johnson, alongside other Pistons wings, will take his crack at guarding LeBron again, but I certainly don't envy any of them heading into game three.