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Cam Johnsons’ evolving offensive arsenal

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Cam Johnson has expanded his offensive game while at UNC.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron Johnson joined the Heels with a reputation as a three-point specialist. Never mind that he actually was much more than a one trick pony. Fans just remembered how he lit up the Heels in the Dean Dome last season, and immediately hoped and/or expected the second coming of Wayne Ellington. On Sunday we examined and challenged that notion.

Instead, Johnson has provided the Heels with a three-level scorer who has enhanced his offensive lethality. Much like Luke Maye, despite being best known for his shooting prowess, Johnson has actually been a productive scorer from all parts of the floor.

A quick refresher from last weekend’s article and check of his numbers confirms this. Last season over the span of 33 games, Cam Johnson took 8.6 shots per game (5.7 from three) and averaged 11.9 points on 51% from two, and 41.5% from three.

In 19 games this season, Cam is averaging 53.1% from two, but “just” 35.7% from three on 10.3 FGA per game. His two-point attempts per game has almost doubled from 2.9 last year at Pittsburgh to 5.2 at UNC. As a result, his average is a slightly higher 13.1 points per game. Decreased usage and efficiency from deep, combined with increased efficiency and usage from two-point range, has created a more well-rounded threat.

According to hoop-math.com, here is the breakdown of where Johnson’s shots are coming this season compared to last year. These are the percentage of his total shots from different locations on the floor, followed by the actual shooting percentage from those same spots.

Cam Johnson shot location breakdown

Season Games FGA % Shots at Rim FG% at Rim % of 2pt J 2pt J % % of shots 3P 3P%
Season Games FGA % Shots at Rim FG% at Rim % of 2pt J 2pt J % % of shots 3P 3P%
Pitt, 2016-17 33 284 20.4 67.2 13.4 26.3 66.2 41.5
UNC, 2017-18 19 196 24 64.7 26 45.1 50 35.7

The most noticeable difference is the increase in two-point jump shots. At North Carolina, 26% of his overall attempts have been a two-point jump shot (technically, any shot outside of two feet). That’s a far cry from the 13.1% at Pittsburgh. Below are a few examples of how Cam has expanded his offensive game, in .gif form.

Transition

Johnson is not the most explosive 6’8 guard. UNC’s system, however, has still given him some freedom to show what he can do in the open court. Long strides and just enough ball handling ability have caused opponents difficulty.

Here, he takes the outlet from Maye. His long strides get him to the rim in just three dribbles.

Below, Cam pushes the pace as he brings the ball up the court. He almost gets stuck, but the defense has already responded to his penetration. He drains the three off the semi-broken play.

Below, Cam takes on his old teammates when Pittsburgh came to town. This was one of a few key plays he made towards the end of the first half to help UNC finally gain some separation from the Panthers.

Offensive Rebounding

This is one of the more noticeable improvements in Cam’s game. He was always a solid rebounder, but his willingness to buy into UNC’s rebounding philosophy has directly impacted his offensive game. Last season, he recorded only five offensive rebounds and putbacks. This season, in only 19 games, has recorded 13. The key takeaway on the following clips are Cam’s willingness to enter the lane from the perimeter. He doesn’t get most of offensive rebounds because he’s fighting for position on the block.

In this first put back, he takes advantage of Duke’s zone and just floats untouched into the paint.

Two offensive rebounds on one possession! Cam hits the glass on a missed jump shot, misses his first putback, but stays alert. A little turnaround hook shot is his reward.

Johnson shows great awareness against Louisville on Luke’s air ball. Again, he crashes from the FT line. This follow-up pushed the Heels lead back to 10 points with five minutes to play.

Cutting/Driving

Maybe UNC’s Lightning Lineup has created more mismatches for Johnson to take advantage of. Or maybe, Cam was extra diligent by improving this supposed weakness in his game. Perhaps it’s a bit of both, but whatever the reason, Johnson has been effective at penetrating or maximizing size advantages in the post. No longer a boom-or-bust three point specialist, 50% of his field goal attempts are from inside the arc - a drastic difference from last season when that number was less than 35%.

We’ll start off with the first bucket at NC State. Notice Cam’s read on Kenny Williams’ screen. Most teams would expect him to continue to the top of the key. Instead he slips the screen and draws an and-1.

The almost identical play against Miami. This has been an effective option off the secondary break that allows the screener (Williams) to pop back out for an open three.

Notre Dame. Drives, dishes to Luke Maye, and gets it back for the 8 foot jump shot.

And of course, this ”dunk”.

Three Point Threat

Well. Duh. Just enjoy these.

A quick dribble hand-off, and Johnson replaces Williams in the corner.

Cam just cuts across the top of the key. Nothing special. Duke is just really bad in their man-to-man defense.

This was just a silly shot from NBA range. Cam doesn’t waste any motion and drains it.

These may seem simple or self-explanatory, but this versatility was not a part of Cam’s repertoire last season. Undoubtedly, UNC’s system has been favorable to his skills — specifically the emphasis on transition and rebounding. Cam deserves credit for adjusting to, and answering, those demands.

However, the coaching staff deserves credit for implementing minor wrinkles throughout the year to take advantage of his 6’8 size advantage in the post and cutting to the basket. The guard-oriented lineup has also opened up driving lanes that are not there for more traditional UNC teams. Nor is it likely a coincidence that many of those assists at the rim came from Theo Pinson. There is likely a correlation of Pinson’s increased success as playmaker and Cam’s expanding role inside the arc.

With one more regular season game, at Duke, hopefully we see Cam use all of these methods to lead UNC to a double-bye in the ACC Tournament.