SVG weighs in on Stanley Johnson & KCP’s defensive shortcomings

Detroit Pistons head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy recently took the opportunity to sit down with Los Angeles Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick in an hour-long episode of The Vertical podcast.

As it turns out, Redick, a disciple of Van Gundy’s dating back to their days in Orlando, did a bang up job of picking his former head coach’s brain on an array of topics ranging from his goals for the Pistons organization moving forward to a coach’s self-accountability (turns out a 5-23 start messes with a coach’s confidence as well).

Van Gundy’s thoughts on two of his young game-changers in the making were of particular interest. Referencing Redick’s own development from subpar defender to a more-than-adequate team defender in Los Angeles, Van Gundy made note of Stanley Johnson and Kenatvious Caldwell-Pope’s collective work ethic while also delving into what will eventually lead his two youngsters to the next level.

“Stanley Johnson, I think, is a very good individual defender, particularly for a 19-year-old kid,” Van Gundy admitted. “He’ll really get up into people. But it’s hard for us right now to play good defense with him on the floor because as you said there’s a lot to learn about NBA defense and really recognizing situations and so he’s often a step behind off the ball.

“If he was guarding somebody like (Redick) off the screen, he’d be late, you’d get separation. Now if you’re just talking give somebody the ball and isolate, yeah, he’s going to be really good. But our team defense suffered with him. And I think he will end up being a great defender but until he learns those things, it has to go beyond the toughness and individual part of it.”

The learning curve that comes with developing into a great team defender, not just tireless worker in one-on-one scenarios, applies similarly to starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

“I love KCP,” Van Gundy told Redick. “I think he’s a really good individual defender, I think he’s a good pick-and-roll defender but I don’t think he can just lock guys down … Case in point our game with you guys this year, we had come out the time-out talking about being aware on the weak side of the hammer. And he got caught a step late, tried to recover and ran by you. You hit a three, we go into overtime and we lose the game.

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“Those kind of things, they’re happening less to him, but they’re still happening from time to time. In two years—he’s a guy who takes great pride—in two years I don’t think that’ll happen to him. But right now there’s still four or five times this year that things like that would happen to him in crucial situations. That learning curve, it takes some time in this league to recognize all those different situations and all those counters that could be coming.”

Alongside the constructive critiques of his budding wings, Van Gundy didn’t shy away from personal accountability either, freely discussing the wavering of his own confidence when his team embarked on a 5-23 run during his first season at the helm in Detroit while acknowledging the everlasting pursuit of balancing criticism with encouragement.

“I think I’ve got to first be able to balance being demanding with also being aware of the effect I can have on guy’s confidence at times,” Van Gundy said. “So creating a little bit of a different environment. That will be a little difficult for me. I’m not talking about being soft. There has to be both. There has to be that accountability and at the same time not having guys on the floor afraid of making a mistake, afraid of taking a chance.”

Listen to Van Gundy’s full interview with Redick HERE.

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