When thinking back to Cam Johnson’s time with the Tar Heels, I think the first thing we all think of is universally the same: his excellent shooting ability. Johnson was one of the best shooters that Carolina had in the 2010s, and he almost certainly would’ve helped the Tar Heels get to at least the Elite Eight if both he and Nassir Little didn’t come down with flu-like symptoms before the game against Auburn. Fast forward to now, however, and what we’re seeing in the NBA Western Conference Finals is a player that has not only become a good NBA player, but a valuable one at that.
Considering the fact that it’s hard to watch the Phoenix Suns play during the regular season unless you live in Arizona, it’s been difficult to get a handle on just how well Cam Johnson’s been doing aside from his stats. Every now and then we saw him explode for 20+ point games, and other games he were merely efficient but mostly quiet. In the NBA Playoffs we have gotten to get a much closer look at what his role is with the Suns, and I must say I’ve been really impressed. At the time of writing this article, Johnson is averaging 7.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 0.8 assists in the playoffs. While this doesn’t seem like much, it is worth pointing out that he is also shooting at a 46.6% clip from the field and 42.5% from deep.
While Johnson has been a nice, solid piece to this Phoenix Suns team throughout the playoffs, he has started to turn it on a little bit more against the Clippers in the WCF. In both games he has gone 10-13 from the field, and is shooting 50% from three-point range. In both games he also played exactly 24 minutes, which is the sixth-highest amount on the team. Suns head coach Monty Williams hasn’t been afraid to put Johnson on some of the tougher assignments in the league either — during the series against the Lakers, we saw Cam occasionally goes toe-to-toe with future Hall of Famer Lebron James, and he did as respectable job as one could ask him to do against a guy who is unstoppable when he is attacking the basket.
This leads us to probably the biggest surprise of Cam Johnson’s postseason debut, and one that I have been extremely impressed with: his defense. One stat that I didn’t mention earlier is that Johnson is averaging 1.1 steals per game, which is up from 0.6 in the regular season. Game 3 against the Lakers was the last time that Johnson failed to record a steal, and most recently against the Clippers he has recorded three steals in the first two games. I have loved seeing his energy on defense, and he has actively attacked the ball whenever he is guarding the ballhandler. Even on offense he seems to be playing with a level of energy we never saw in Chapel Hill, and if he continues to play as well as he has been I wouldn’t be surprised if the Suns close out this series to advance to the NBA Finals.
It is always exciting to see a Tar Heel lottery pick prove his worth in the league, and I feel like when it comes to Cam Johnson, this is only the beginning of what I think he will become when it’s all said and done. The Phoenix Suns ended up being the perfect fit for him, and now he is helping his team potentially get to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993. I have publicly turned into a Suns fan until further notice, and I hope that within the next month we will see yet another Tar Heel getting to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.