Stanley Johnson: 'I'm the Best Player' in the 2015 NBA Draft

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistMay 14, 2015

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Would you really want to use your first-round pick in the 2015 NBA draft on a player who doubted his own abilities and didn't believe he was the one capable of improving your franchise's fortunes? 

Of course not, as confidence is a good thing in this line of work. A necessity, really. And for teams wondering whether Arizona's Stanley Johnson has any of it, well, you can now rest assured that he thinks highly of his own abilities. 

As reported by Jay King of MassLive.com, Johnson had a terrific response to a softball question at the NBA Draft Combine: 

Jay King @ByJayKing

Why should an NBA team draft you, Stanley Johnson? "Because I'm the best player in the draft."

Obviously, that's not exactly the consensus opinion of most draftniks out there, as nearly every draft board has either Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor at the very top, with D'Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay, Willie Cauley-Stein and Justise Winslow usually serving as the next tier. Johnson is generally found somewhere beneath that sextet. 

On DraftExpress.com's latest rankings, the Wildcat product is down at No. 9. NBADraft.net's Aran Smith basically concurs, with Johnson falling in at No. 7 and trailing five of the six aforementioned names (Cauley-Stein can be found at No. 11).

Bleacher Report's own Jonathan Wasserman? He has Johnson going to the Charlotte Hornets at No. 9 in his most recent mock draft, writing the following about the freshman standout: 

At No. 9, the Hornets should be thrilled to land Stanley Johnson, whose elite defensive tools (6'7", 245 pounds, 6'11 ½" wingspan, quick feet) and promising jumper play to the fact he's viewed as a safe bet.

Physically, he reminds of a mix between Kawhi Leonard and a young Ron Artest...

Look for him to emerge as one of the winners following measurements and athletic testing at the combine.

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Apparently, Johnson is trying to look like a winner after only the interview portion of the combine. 

Given his current level, calling himself the best prospect in this class is a bit of an exaggeration, but he most assuredly does have the upside necessary to justify such a claim down the road. During his one and only season under Sean Miller, he averaged 13.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.4 blocks while earning a 22.5 player efficiency rating, per Sports-Reference.com

And that doesn't begin to describe what he already brings to the table. 

Even at just 18 years old, he's emerged as a promising and athletic three-point shooter who knocked down 37.1 percent of his deep attempts as a freshman while taking 3.1 per game. And his marksmanship still pales in comparison to his defensive ability, which has been on the radar for quite some time.

Despite making the transition from high school to his first collegiate season, Johnson posted an 87.6 defensive rating, which put him at No. 19 throughout the entire country and second in his conference, behind only Oregon State's Gary Payton.

But becoming the best player in a draft class isn't just about coming into the Association at a certain level. No one is a finished product during his rookie season. Continuing to improve is even more important, and Johnson is already trying to do exactly that. 

First, he trained with Kobe Bryant last offseason, per the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina: 

Mark Medina @MarkG_Medina

Stanley Johnson said he worked out with Kobe Bryant this offseason. Johnson: "Hardest workouts of my life."

Mark Medina @MarkG_Medina

Stanley Johnson clarified to me that his workouts with Kobe took place last summer

And as Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick noted on Twitter, he's already highlighted his biggest weaknesses and worked to improve them this year: 

Ethan J. Skolnick @EthanJSkolnick

Stanley Johnson says he knew he needed to improve midrange game, so he has, & is now working on posting

That's the type of dedication to the craft that NBA general managers love to see, which allows them to check off a second intangible on his draft-day chart. Apparently, he's got the confidence and the work ethic. 

This small forward has a long way to go if he's actually going to emerge as the best player in this draft. The favorite right now should rather easily be Towns, who possesses an intriguing blend of unmatched two-way potential, plus plenty of size to boot. 

But if Johnson does imitate cream and rise to the top—and that possibility can't be ruled out while he's only 18 years old—then you know who called it first. 

That would be Johnson himself. 

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