2019-20 Rookie Review: Remember Trashing The Cam Johnson Pick?

(Image by Tomek Kordylewski)

By Matt Esposito

I certainly do. But I mean, that’s life. We should have never unlearned the old grammar school adage, “always pick the older, bigger kid in dodgeball.” Am I going to fact check this next claim? No. But I’m pretty sure Cam Johnson was the oldest player drafted last year. At 6-foot-8, he’s a monster of a shooter as well. Don’t forget your childhood lessons, folks.

The brass in Phoenix certainly didn’t. After receiving a poor draft grade from just about every (and I use this next term lightly) respectable hoops site, the Suns rocked with Johnson anyways. The rookie saw 20 minutes per night and is one of the top two shooters in his draft class, if not the overall best.

You are right to question some of Phoenix’s personnel decisions based on their history. DeAndre Ayton will be very good. Luka Doncic still should have been drafted first. The Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss selections? Tough. But this one they nailed and that Mikal Bridges trade will look great in time, too. Let’s explore what Johnson excelled at before nitpicking some room for improvement.

Shooting, Obviously

I don’t know if you readers are Harry Potter fans but if you don’t pronounce “obviously” like Severus Snape then what’re we doing here? Is there a crossover market for NBA/Wizardry fans? Am I losing you?

Well, Johnson was a magical shooter this season (brought you back, didn’t I?) He shot 39.7 percent from deep on over four attempts per game. Specifically, Johnson’s percentage of 3-pointers taken from the corner placed in the 99th percentile, according to Cleaning the Glass. He was good from there, although not elite (more on this later.) Yet overall, he is currently in the 81st percentile for 3-point percentage. Los Suns knew precisely how to use their rookie.

Zach Milner from The Stepien nicely detailed how Cam’s fast release and sound shot preparation guaranteed that his jumper would translate to the League. In the brief clip below, you can see how smooth his mechanics are. What’s more, they give him unlimited range.

Phoenix has an elite spacer and on the cheap. Things are looking up! Expect him to greatly increase his 3-point volume next year. Regardless, Johnson can do more than bury triples, as we will discuss next.

Attacking Closeouts

The only thing that results from daydreaming about my college years is a low feeling of nostalgia and some regretful texts to exes. When thinking about Johnson’s days at UNC, however, I wonder how many failed to observe that he was also a talented passer.

In the NBA, teams will closeout hard on Cam. Fortunately, he plays one step ahead and can attack these contests. After pumping then driving, Johnson is quick to spot who the help defender has left open. When he does, teammates can expect an accurate, timely pass.

Johnson uses his lower body prep to indicate that a shot is coming. Defenders almost have to bite. Some of the assists seen above are not remarkably sexy, but they are unquestionably winning plays that elevate an offense.

Although Johnson shot an unimpressive 57 percent at the rim this year, that is likely the result of getting used to NBA length and physicality. Expect that number to progress next season. He should only get better at attacking closeouts and finishing amongst the trees. You can already see the touch is there. So, what does he need to work on most this summer?

Nitpicking His Corner Shooting Form

Remember those corner triples I was talking about? Cam loves shooting from that spot but hit a middling 40 percent of them (CTG.) That’s right around the 61st percentile, far from elite although still good. It would be foolish to think that Johnson cannot become a premier corner stretcher, however.

Take a second to watch five examples of his corner shooting form. You’ll notice that some of them are closely contested while some are not. Nevertheless, it seems like Johnson expects contact and braces for it. How do we know? Pay attention to his lower body. Watch how his legs adjust for balance upon landing.

The last three shots results in uninspiring left/right misses. When I see a girl approaching me, my lower back sweats. When Cam sees a defender closing out in the corner, his legs swing forward. We both have psychosomatic giveaways. Incidentally, we both have room for improvement.

There are times when kicking out a leg is the correct form. Ask that Irving guy how he mastered the pull-up J, he’ll confirm. But sometimes it throws the entire body off balance. Left/right misses inform us that that might be what is happening here.

Off Season To-Do List

Cam should work on feeling comfortable taking shots in tight spaces. He it only 16.7 percent of his treys with a “tight” defender on him. That number jumped to 37.3 percent when he was “open.” Top tier shooters perform better in each category.

Maybe we’ll see some of those cute broominyourface videos from his postseason workouts. Whatever he chooses, Johnson should work on getting off a well balanced, clean shot with a defender right next to him. It’ll likely be the difference between becoming Duncan Robinson or Furkan Korkmaz; two excellent floor spacers with long careers ahead of them, but one definitively better than the other.

Published by Matt Esposito

Founder/Writer for Theplaygrounder.com and contributor to Red’s Army Twitter: @Mattesposito_

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