Phoenix Suns swingman Cameron Johnson, a rookie blessed with two off-seasons in a single year, clearly seems to have gained the most from the first of those off-seasons as a rookie.
“Looking like he is in his second year given the break,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said on a Zoom call Wednesday.
Monty responds to the first question going right into maybe the most interesting player coming into bubble play, sneaking right behind Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker.
“He put some muscle on and understands the workload and has the confidence in him,” Williams added. “He looks like a guy that will step into any role and be fine.”
That can answer the question of whether Cam can start at the four spot, if Kelly Oubre Jr. is still absent (meniscus rehab) from the depth chart come July 31st. Cam is in battle with Dario Saric for the final spot in the starting lineup, who Monty says joins Cam after practice “to get their shooting in and one on one practice.” Both men know they have a shot to start, even if Dario has the upper hand with the experience. It is great to hear they are helping each other… how cute. I feel like Suns fans are voting for Cam Johnson to take the role as the other wing, and want the coaches to feel the same.
Before we play favorites with anointing young Cam to stand before a tip-off, Saric (who is only two years older) is still getting some buzz when it comes to getting “his body better conditioned.” Over the break, Monty continues that Saric is “taking it to another level” in getting him to do “everything that I know he can do and that our sports science and strength have been really diligent about giving him a plan.”
This has to be a tough decision for Monty. Who will be Kelly Oubre’s replacement? I came up with a quick point system, counting every great thing said by Monty about Cam and Saric that might be leading us to the answer.
Having Cam coming into the bubble and overstating his stature earns Cam a point. Saric’s “conditioning is really ahead of where I thought it would be” Monty says, giving Saric a point. Both are competitive and understanding of what is expected of them on and off the court… two points for both. I already lost count and will conclude that Monty really likes both these players and seems satisfied with the work they put in during the break. But the winner to me is Cam, because he is self-motivated to improve, where as Monty said about Saric “Coach Darko has been on his rear-end all season to dive into nutrition and to get his body into better condition, NBA type.”
Reminiscing about the 2019-2020 season, Monty talks about the ups and down but mostly encouraged by the “somewhat of a rhythm” that the team gained towards the end of the season. The season so far for the Suns can be attributed to Monty’s comments about Deandre Aytons play as “In and out with injuries and we got to see his ability to be dynamic and dominant.” The dominance was there when healthy and also dynamic when Ricky Rubio “brought everything together.”
Two games that ended the season on a high note was the 131-111 win over the Utah Jazz and the 140-131 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. This gave Monty “a ton of excitement” but also has him scratching his neck about how he’ll “be really excited when we can get a full complement of players because I feel like we can be really good.” That is the mentality of every Suns fan. If we can stay healthy we might be really good.
The other rookie coming with two off-seasons is Ty Jerome, who’s floor recognition as a point guard was described by Monty as having “an above average IQ for the game and a thirst for knowledge. Ty knew the questions that he needed to ask.” This is very important to hear about the progress of Ty, who was lost for most of the season.
Monty says “he’s been in the gym and working on his body, that’s something that he knows he has to improve. The speed of the game and the physicality of the game. A Lot of guards” (all guards) “tried to pressure him a lot of times” (all the time) “in the back court.” Again, very important.
Those comments explain part of the reason Ty disappeared (the other being nagging injuries). He was unable to handle the pressure and the speed almost instantly when trying to give Rubio a rest for a minute or two.
Ty shares that the biggest thing he has been working on is “making sure my body is right… and obviously things like shooting.”
I think I might have missed seeing Ty as a floor general, someone that would take over for Ricky and continue to move the offense with the second team. He goes on to say that “I got to be able to knock down shots at a super high click” when playing on the floor with Booker, Rubio, and Ayton. A knock down shooter is not what I had in mind, but when asked what his role might be in the bubble “that’s a question for coach, whatever role I get. Just want to help the team as much as possible.”
Shooter or not, Ty is not a snitch when asked about the infamous Snitch Hotline. “I’ve never seen it and just trying to stay focused to help the team win.”
Ty, like many of the NBA players, found a gym and a routine when games were cancelled by the league. He mentions that during quarantine “I went back to Virginia because I have a gym out there” and “competed with Deandre Hunter… we had our trainer down there, shot, lifted, 6 days a week.” Also keeping mentally prepared, he has been “watching full games” in helping him understand the game better now that he has the time, including those of Steve Nash.
The process of becoming The Rock, by Cam Johnson who “put on probably 10ish, 12ish pounds” he says, starts with “a lot of lifting and trying to get stronger.” Seriously, this is the quickest way to get ripped without having to spend $30 on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson motivational books.
The real opportunity for Cam to come back and finish the season is described by him as being “really special”. He was cut short of finishing his rookie season before the pandemic and what seemed like a reach in the draft impressively became the right selection. He had a lot of time “figure out where to grow” because the season “will throw a lot at you.” Alone time well spent. “The break was very beneficial and I got to work on the things I needed to work on and come back to finish out strong.”
The Suns continue to sound motivated to end on a much better high note than recent years.
Cam Johnson is no snitch either.
*Please welcome Matthew Lissy to the writing team! Matthew is a long time Suns fans and also the co-host of the Suns JAM Session podcast right here on the Bright Side network.