Welcome to our Phoenix Suns Season in Review series where we do individual PLAYER REVIEWS of each man that contributed in the 2021-22 season. We go through the roster to analyze what went right/wrong for them, and what they can do to get better for next season.
- Position: Small Forward/Power Forward
- Vitals: 6’8” tall, 210 pounds, 25 years old
- Experience: 3rd NBA season, 11th pick in 2019 Draft
- Stats: 12.5 points per game, 46% shooting overall, 42.5% threes, 86% free throws (for 46/42/86 shooting splits), 4.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.9 steals
Take a look at how we’ve reviewed Cam since coming to the Suns in 2019.
Regular Season Recap
Johnson improved so much this season he finished 3rd in the Sixth Man of the Year award voting by select NBA media as one of the league’s best bench players (among players who started less than half their games this season).
He was 5th on the team in scoring, ahead of starter Jae Crowder (9.4 ppg) and 6th in minutes played per game (26.1). Johnson has developed into a capable, and sometimes impactful defender, and spent much of the year developing his shot-creation skills after two years of being mostly a catch-and-shoot option on offense.
He dropped a career-high 38 points in a game against the Knicks, including the game-winner as time expired, where he needed to be a big scorer, as both Devin Booker and Chris Paul were out of the lineup that night.
Unfortunately, he suffered a deeply bruised quad in this game and missed the next month after this one was over. And when he returned to the lineup he was never the same, posting just 8.7 points per game on 30/20/75 splits in the last six games of the season heading into the 2022 Playoffs.
In the Playoffs, he got a little better with 10.8 points per game on 46/37/81 splits. He even started three games in round one against the Pelicans when Devin Booker was sidelined with a hamstring issue.
But he still played less per game (24 vs. 26 minutes) in the Playoffs and never quite reached his pre-injury levels in any category.
That’s not the same as the 2021 Playoffs,
Obviously. his shooting. Cam has a quick, repeatable and accurate release on the catch to make him one of the most dangerous threats in the league from behind the arc. His 42.5% shooting for the season on the long ball was one of the best in the league, and his career-high three-point attempts per game (5.9) were one of the highest in the game among bench players.
Other strengths include good defense on the perimeter, good ball handling and a real sense of being in the right place at the right time on both offense and defense. Cam was a big contributor to the Suns 3rd ranked D and and 5th ranked O this year, even though the individual stats don’t bear that out.
Scoring inside the arc is not a real threat with Cam. Sure he can surprise you with a tomahawk dunk once a month, but he doesn’t scare anyone when he puts the ball down and drives toward the paint.
With a green light from the coaching staff, he did work on his attack game for when defenders jump him on the catch for a hard closeout. He worked on a catch-and-go to get himself into a mid-range jumper or go all the way to the rim. We’re not talking high volume here — his two-point shots increased from only 2.5 to 3.3 per game this season — while his conversion rate went way down, from 58% to 52%.
Other weaknesses: he’s a bad rebounder and cannot hold his ground defensively against thick playmakers. His 4.1 rebounds per game was already bad and dropped to 3.5 in the playoffs. In the post, or even on the perimeter, he cannot withstand a hard shoulder-bump to the chest the way he thinks he can. Julius Randle famously challenged Cam on a physical level, which pissed Cam off to that 38-point outburst but also put Cam on the shelf for a month. In the playoffs, Cam was bullied off his spot consistently by Luka Doncic to the point he became a ‘pigeon’ to attack.
What to work on
The Suns have to figure out what Cam is, and help him settle into that role. He’s already a great catch-and-shoot threat but that feels under-utilized. He too often goes long stretches without a touch, and when he does he too often attacks the closeout rather than hoist a quick three.
The Suns wanted to grow him as a guy who can get his own shot this year, which is why he’s attacking closeouts so much more, and that produced mixed results. He proved in the playoffs he’s got a long way to go on that end.
Suns head coach Monty Williams, less than 24 hours after the Game 7 loss:
“Right now, I look at myself and how do I put those guys in a position where they can be more confident, when teams are taking away Book and Chris? That was the one thing that I’m seeing in the playoffs, when you watch all these games, everybody has three or four guys maybe that can put the ball down and go get a bucket.
I’m asking myself over the course of the season, ‘Did I put those guys in enough positions so they can grow and do that?’ We thought that we did but when you look at this past series, maybe not. Were there opportunities for us to give (Suns forwards) Mikal (Bridges), Cam (Johnson) (and guard) Landry (Shamet) more opportunities to play in those 1-on-1 environments?
Because in the playoffs, everybody knows your plays. You throw the ball around two three, four times, one guy gets it, and he goes and gets a bucket.
Is Cam Johnson really the guy you want to develop further, as a one-on-one bucket getter? Safe. But you can’t put all your eggs in that basket either. As I said, Cam has a long way to go.
Cam also needs build more strength, or stop trying to be a tough guy. If he’s going to try to absorb shoulders into the chest like Jae Crowder and Deandre Ayton can, he’s got to be able to stand his ground, hold his upright stance and make the other guy adjust. Otherwise, he needs to adjust his defensive style to take advantage of his smarts and quickness in other ways to get the advantage in those situations.
- Entering the final season of his rookie contract, worth $5.89 million
- Eligible this summer for an extension on that rookie contract
Last summer, teammate Mikal Bridges was in the same boat and got $21 million per year in his four-year extension.
They have similar strengths and weaknesses on offense, but Mikal is a much more accomplished player. Bridges is a better defender (voted among the five best defenders in the whole league this year), plays a lot more minutes (Mikal led league in minutes played, 25% more than Cam) and starts every game (82 starts vs. 16 for cam).
Cam is a better three-point shooter than Mikal (42% vs. 37%), though that’s only just recently flipped in Cam’s favor.
They both are only 26 years old next year, just entering the athletic prime of their careers for the length of an extension.
Cam will get less than Mikal, but how much less? $15 million per year sounds about right to me.
Any extension for Cam Johnson would not kick in until 2023, a year from now, because he’s already under contract for the upcoming season. So the negotiations with him on an extension could last right up until training camp like it did for Mikal Bridges last year.
Let’s give Cam Johnson a grade for the whole season, including the playoffs.
- Overall grade as an NBA player: B
- Relative grade to preseason expectations: B