I've seen Star Wars Episode III at least 30 times in my life (it
came out on my ninth birthday and has been a staple ever since; sue
me). There's something extremely grounding and soothing about that
movie for me that I don't find replicated often in media. I feel
the same bewilderment and joy watching the Battle of Coruscant
unfold every darn time, like I'm still that awestruck kid at Regal
Cinema 15 years ago. Order 66 still breaks me each rewatch, we
don't need to talk about it!
The Suns are my NBA comfort watch, much like that film. If I've
gone through a particularly grimey stretch of Indiana Pacers play,
I can flip on the Suns on League Pass once the West Coast tip-off
starts and bask in the ambiance of fantastic basketball.
The offensive sets flow and pop. Defensive rotations are crisp
and timely. The consistent stability of Phoenix draws me in, and
it's third-year forward Cam Johnson who is central to that
Paul is going to slice up the court with nifty passing, and
Booker will dazzle with his shot-making. But Johnson is the kind of
player who, if you watch a team casually, might not pop... at least
not in the way a star might.
Yet, that quietness is what makes Johnson such an integral
player. Once you get in tune with the Suns, the silence is audible
when he's not on the court.
At its core, the term/archetype "3-and-D" loses the essence of
what makes a player unique; Johnson's role certainly runs
He paints the corners, canning 48.0% of his attempts from the
wings, per Cleaning the Glass (89th percentile).
Johnson is a legitimate shooter off of movement, and his
gravitational pull is acknowledged in full by defenses; he rates in
the bottom third of Basketball Index's openness-rating metric,
tracking how open a player's attempts are on average.
Out of players taking 3 or more threes per game this season,
Johnson is fifth in the NBA in three-point percentage (43.2%). We
know about the shooting, but it's the foundation of his game! It's
what he was most marketed for as a prospect, but it unlocks the
remainder of his offensive skill set in a way that the box score
Johnson isn't an adept ball-handler, but he's competent for his
size. Along with his tremendous perception of advantages and court
awareness, he's able to knife into lanes that are made available to
him. Give him a step on the catch, and he might not beat you to the
rim, but he's going to keep the initial push of the offense going
Since he's entered the starting lineup post All-Star Break with
Paul out, he's doubled his assists per game (1.5 to 3.7), but
that's more of a highlight of what he's always been capable of —
just exacerbated with higher usage.
Attacking off the second side, he's phenomenal at driving east
and west, hitting cutters or bigs in the dunker spot or floating in
the paint with a dump-off or drop-off pass.
Johnson flows in and out of secondary ball-screens and handoffs
if a primary action is denied. He often has to kill his dribble
before he can get to the rim, but his quick actions and relocation
buoy his lack of burst and keep the offense in equilibrium.
He's also pretty darn good as a post-entry passer, and has
developed some nice chemistry with JaVale McGee, finding him
routinely (Shout out to JaVale, what a season from him).
Johnson's even flashed some eye manipulation, toying with the
defense in a way that I certainly wasn't ready for; the defense was
It sounds simplistic, but a player like Johnson who thrives
operating off of others is essential to sn offense. Being able to
put the ball on the floor and make positive decisions while
maintaining the defense's attention as a shooter eases up life to a
degree for Booker and Paul.
When he does his job, it's not always noticeable, as mentioned
above. When backups with different skill sets fill in, there's an
"Oh, yeah, I get it now!" type of realization. (And that's not
Torrey Craig or Ish Wainwright slander, but rather "Cam Johnson is
Johnson was really solid defensively last year, but it's felt as
though he's taken smaller steps this season and grown into a more
Johnson won't often lock down opposing wings as well as Mikal
Bridges does, but he excels in a team scheme. He's been better at
the point of attack and man-to-man than anticipated pre-draft.
While he doesn't have a massive wingspan (6-foot-10), you will
rarely see Johnson with his arms down. He's so good at keeping
himself square and angling, riding out drives on a ball-handlers
hip, keeping vertical and using his length to contest and
This possession is a microcosm of why I enjoy Johnson as a
He fights through the screen fairly well for someone with his
size and frame, but my favorite part is that he never loses contact
with DeMar DeRozan. Tony Bradley doesn't fully set the screen for
contact (it feels somewhere between a slip and a legit screen), but
that would be enough to deter many point-of-attack defenders,
creating some separation.
Johnson has a hand on DeRozan at all times, making it extremely
difficult for DeRozan to both feel comfortable and step into one of
his patented pull-up twos after snaking into space. Johnson simply
doesn't provide that space by maintaining contact and always being
He works in tandem with McGee, shading DeRozan to the baseline
before he pivots out and then posts up.
Is Johnson flat-out stopping DeRozan on the perimeter? No, but
he's simply being solid and continually getting the most out of his
tools. Staying solid is an art, and Johnson is the artist, with
timely rotations, good communication (a Phoenix staple) and apt
activity on switches.
While Kevin Love and Tyler Herro will rightfully garner most of
the votes and consideration for Sixth Man of the Year, Cameron
Johnson deserves a mention and a down-ballot nomination (even if he
starts the remainder of the year, he'll meet criteria).
As he likely remains in a larger role with Paul out for the
foreseeable future, enjoy the Cam Johnson experience, appreciate
the little things he does that deserve highlighting,and soak in the
rays of a great Suns team.