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Former UNC player Cam Johnson has breathed new life into the Phoenix Suns’ starting lineup

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The former Tar Heel is in a unique situation in the NBA bubble, and he’s using the opportunity to make a lot of noise.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA has officially rebooted their season, which means for a select number of teams there is a renewed opportunity to prove themselves. So far numerous young players have stepped up in a big way for their respective squads in the zero-crowd environment, and one of those players that has done so is a guy we know pretty well. I believe you all remember him, but if not, here’s a reminder:

Former UNC star and current Phoenix Suns rookie Cam Johnson has officially made his way into the starting lineup. The decision to promote him, much like the situation his former teammate Coby White found himself in, was one that was based off of necessity perhaps more than anything. The Suns so far have had to replace Kelly Oubre Jr. in the lineup with Mikal Bridges, and after Dario Saric missed the final scrimmage with an ankle injury head coach Monty Williams had to turn to his rookie to fill the spot. How has that worked out for them so far? So far I’d say pretty well, as the Suns are now 3-0 in the bubble following last night’s big win against the Los Angeles Clippers.

From an individual stat perspective, here is how Johnson has faired in each regular season game in the bubble so far:

vs. Washington

12 PTS, 5-8 FG, 1-3 3PT, 3 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, +0 (+/-), 25 min

vs. Dallas

19 PTS, 6-11 FG, 4-8 3PT, 12 REB, 4 AST, 0 STL, +3 (+/-), 40 min

vs. LA Clippers

8 PTS, 3-10 FG, 1-5 3PT, 7 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, +6 (+/-), 38 min

While the games against the Clippers and the Wizards aren’t anything to sneeze at for a rookie’s first three games in the startling lineup, the highlight of the bubble so far for Cam Johnson is the game against the Dallas Mavericks. His shooting performance was something that Tar Heels fans are all too familiar with from his days in Chapel Hill, knocking down 50% of his eight three-point attempts. His ability to stretch the court is something that has been of great help to the Suns,

Here’s what Phoenix Suns start Devin Booker had to say to Arizona Sports 98.7 FM about what Johnson brings to the starting lineup:

“When you have a rim threat like Deandre and a shooter in the corner like Cam — that’s what the NBA is. You have to make a decision,” Booker said. “The way Cam’s shooting the ball, I think teams are going to realize that’s a decision they can’t make.”

The Dallas Mavericks very much had to make decisions against the Suns with Johnson on the floor, and they made a lot of bad ones. As you can see in the highlights below, Booker did a great job of collapsing the defense and kicking the ball out to Johnson for some open shots from the perimeter.

Shooting aside, Johnson has also done a great job moving on the court, setting screens, getting rebounds, and in general playing with a lot of energy. During his first year at UNC we didn’t see a whole lot of what we’re seeing now due to injury issues, and during his final season we had some pretty good looks at some of the things he’s doing now, but not quite to this level. This is all to say that Cam looks like he has taken his game to the next level, if by no other means than through the energy that he is playing with in Orlando.

One final and amusing statistic worth noting: Cam Johnson and his former teammate Coby White are now 4-0 when they have played in the starting lineup for their respective teams. White put on a 20-5-5 performance in the Bulls’ win against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 10th. Remember when things were in a bit of a slump with young Carolina players in the NBA? I think it’s safe to say that things are at least looking a little better in the hands of Johnson and White.

It will be worth keeping an eye on Cam Johnson for the rest of what is an unusual reboot of the NBA. It’s exciting to see him start to turn a corner when it comes to his game, and hopefully this will mean nothing but good things for him as well as the Phoenix Suns going forward. What do you think of Cam’s start so far? Do you think this is sustainable improvement, and also what do you think this means for his short-term future with the Suns? Let us know in the comments below.