The way things are trending with Chris Paul’s shoulder is not encouraging for the Suns by any means, but there are ways to temporarily offset the point god’s injury and steal a game in Los Angeles to take home-court advantage back.
Cameron Payne has stepped up. Deandre Ayton has answered the call. Devin Booker has taken on more playmaking and decision-making duties. So that begs the question... where else can they find a boost during these desperate times?
My answer may be surprising on the surface because most would point towards Mikal Bridges or Jae Crowder providing more floor spacing or being more consistent offensive threats. That’s not wrong, but one avenue they need to explore is getting Cameron Johnson more involved offensively. I believe his involvement would open up cleaner looks for the aforementioned wings while taking a lump of pressure off Devin Booker’s increased playmaking duties.
To be more specific, I think they need to run him off screens and get him to be a high-volume threat to bring back the floor spacing that has seemingly diminished this series. This statistic below is very telling, even if it is a minuscule sample size.
Suns 3PM/3PA at Catch & Shoot.— Skyfall (@polarfall) May 26, 2021
-2G vs Lakers : 3.5/ 9.0 (38.9%)
-Regular szn : 10.0 / 25.9 (38.7%)
Before we entirely get there, as I mentioned in the latest episode of Locked On Suns, I believe it’s vital to build him and Mikal’s confidence up early by creating more fastbreak opportunities for easy buckets. Sometimes all a shooter needs is an easy bucket to get the confidence back in their shot, so hunting for transition buckets early would be ideal in Game 3 for those two specifically.
In the first two games, Johnson has attempted 11 total shots, with 9 of those 11 coming from three-point range, and he’s shooting 4-for-9 (44%) on those looks. He’s played 50 minutes in the two contests, so it’s safe to assume he will be getting 20+ minutes consistently the rest of the way, and they’re going to need him to continue to shoot with confidence on a higher volume.
Here are his four makes so far:
I put together that quick video above highlighting his four made threes thus far, mainly because you can tell through his body language (compared to pre-injury) that he is finally confident in his shot again. They need to take advantage of this and put him in a position to get more catch-and-shoot looks.
That first transition three is one way the Suns can break games open as we’ve seen in the past, whether it’s Cam Payne pulling up and hitting a bomb, or him finding the open shooters if the defense is too infatuated with slowing him or Booker down.
When Chris Paul is out, I believe it’s vital for this team to push the pace when the opportunity presents itself because you do not want the Lakers’ defense to get set.
It’s going to take a committee approach to entirely make up for Chris Paul not being anywhere near his usual self, but the Suns are more than capable if they can get their wings going and that starts with Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson. If you can get both of them clicking on the same night, watch out.