Suns

Johnson Entering 6MOY Conversation

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*Editor’s Note: Cameron Johnson entered Phoenix’s starting lineup for the first time Monday. It is unclear if this will continue, but will impact his sixth-man status should he remain in the starting unit.

Coming into the year, the Phoenix Suns’ most attractive feature was their own version of a “Big 3”. Newly added basketball genius Chris Paul was acquired to compliment the elite playmaking ability of Devin Booker alongside an improving Deandre Ayton. A sixth man, let alone someone in the sixth-man-of-the-year conversation, was an afterthought.

However, we all know plans don’t always go as intended. The case is no different for the Suns this season.

With only 11 games played so far (thanks again, Wizards), sample sizes may still be a bit small, and reactions will be a bit big. Where the line starts, however, we might as well finish.

The stars of the show for the season? The bench.

The energy and playmaking ability they bring every night is the exact spark the team needs. Highlighted by second-year small-forward Cameron Johnson, the Suns’ second unit has been a crucial part of the Suns’ competitive stance in the Western Conference. Although Johnson has a lot to prove this year, his play so far has proven he is putting the work in behind the scenes and looking to have a prevalent role as Phoenix’s sixth man.

Not just the sixth man of the team; sixth man of the year.

Offensive Ability Begins to Shine

Playing in all 11 games to start the season, Cam is posting 12.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists across 23.2 minutes per game. More notably, Johnson has upped his three-point attempts from 4.8 to 6.6 per game thus far. At 6’8″, Johnson can shoot while contested, with it still being a quality look. His spacing on the floor and constant footwork allow him to always be in the right spot for teammates to find him. With 87.5% of his three-pointers being assisted, it’s safe to say Johnson is always in a quality spot on the floor.

Defensive schemes to start the year for Johnson have entailed sprinting towards him at the three-point line to contest the shot as much as possible. This has worked, but Johnson has developed a pump-fake, adding an arsenal of plays to be made after. One dribble left or right and he’s still feeling comfortable to shoot.

Contrary to taking the three, Johnson has also consistently improved his ability to attack the basket, as well as his mid-range pull-up. Clearly, Johnson has made this a focus in the offseason, improving his offensive ability all around– making him not only a threat on the perimeter, but on the drive as well.

Not only has the trust in himself grown, but the trust from Suns head coach Monty Williams as well, giving Cam the most minutes off the bench and fourth-quarter minutes from the bench (6.1). Overall, this will only grow his confidence and make his mind stronger throughout the year. This is why this year offers the possibility to make the biggest leap of his whole career. The trust is there.

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Defense Will Continue to Surprise

Coming out of college, one of the negatives of Johnsons’ game was his defense. This year, he has shown why that was an unfair testament to his play.

Ranked 6th in opponent points per game, a staple for the Suns throughout this season will be their defense. Johnson has proved he is capable of keeping up with the task. Paired with Mikal Bridges, they make up one of the best defensive-forward pairs in the league. With the combined wingspan being 13’11” (that’s a lot of floor space covered at once!), they have the ability to help from anywhere.

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Cam, specifically, has dramatically improved his perimeter defense as well. His ability to get around ball screens and continue to follow a play has been crucial, allowing him to get into passing lanes and be a disruptor for the Suns’ defense. As previously mentioned, Johnson’s 6’8″ stature allows him the ability to get into defenders’ faces on their release, leaving no breathing room. All of this while being far enough away to avoid committing a foul.

Johnson’s all-around improvements don’t stop there, either. He has noticeably improved his closeout fundamentals and has had impeccable footwork on non-shooters. Coming in at 210 pounds, he may typically be outmatched at the four, but his fundamental footwork and focus on keeping guys in front of him make him extremely valuable on the other end of the floor. Capable of guarding 1-4, there is no liability on defense.

Inspiring Impact

From the start of Johnson’s tenure as a Sun, he has been an instant plug into any lineup with his willingness to not only spot-up away from the ball, but to put the leather on the floor and attack.

Recently, Coach Williams¬†hinted at making a change to the starting five, stating “that group has not played well”. Whether this means Cam Johnson is making his way to the starting lineup or not, rest assured Johnson’s game is only on the rise. Solidifying his name in the sixth man role. Potentially, across the league as a sixth man of the year candidate.

About Cameron Prichard

Twitter: @TheValleyAthltc

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