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Cameron Johnson’s shot is off and it is puzzling as to why

With the playoffs looming, Phoenix Suns’ forward needs to get right.

Phoenix Suns v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

When James Jones drafted Cameron Johnson with the 11th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, many doubted his price for valued paid. A fourth year guy? A dude who is 241 days older than Devin Booker? Surely he can’t be serious!

Jones was serious. And don’t call him Shirley.

The national pundits have backtracked on their initial draft-day analysis since Johnson’s selection. As Dave King noted, in a recent re-draft of the 2019 players by John Hollinger of The Athletic, Johnson went #6.

Johnson is a talented second-year player and we continue to witness why James Jones made the pick. He finds himself open for wide-open looks at the rim. Cam fits the offensive scheme that Monty Williams deploys and does it with size. You can never have too many wings, right?

What is exciting is the evolution of his game. We’re starting to see him take it to the rim a tad more often with posterizing results. You can’t say you didn’t almost drop your beer when he challenged versatile defender Jarrett Allen at the rim on Tuesday night in OT. We stood, we cheered, we Tweeted.

Moments like these fortify the pick. Cam’s growth on both ends of the floor make us smile. This is what we remember from a victory against the Cavaliers...a savage CAM SLAM!

But does our loyalty to the Cam, the fact that he was doubted much like the Phoenix Suns were, blind us? Did we forget Cam’s game up to this point? His 0-for-5 shooting from deep prior to OT, followed by 0-6 in Atlanta the next night? His recent trend of mediocrity?

If the end goal for the 2020-21 Phoenix Suns is an NBA Championship, they are going to need Cam Johnson. And they are going to need him to play better.

Deadly three-point shooters aren’t just a commodity in the NBA Playoffs, they are a necessity. The super shot sways momentum and deflates the opposition. You are never out of a game, as Suns broadcaster Eddie Johnson always reminds us, due to the impact of the three and the efficiency of which modern shooters make them. Come playoff time, with every possession having more weight than Oliver Miller’s left thigh, the need for knock down three-point shooting will be paramount.

The playoffs have been the stage for some memorable three’s. While we remember some of the big shots taken and drained by the stars — Ray Allen’s series-saving three in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, Kawhi Leonard’s dramatic series clincher in Game 7 over Philadelphia, Tim Duncan’s top-of-the-key gut punch in 2008 versus the Suns — it is the role player daggers hurt the most.

Who remembers Mario Elie? His ‘Kiss of Death’ in Game7 of the 1995 Western Conference Semifinals cost me a perfectly fine TV remote.

“Big Shot” Robert Horry’s shot against the Sacramento Kings in 2002? Andre Iguodala’s game clincher in the 2019 NBA Finals? Ron Artest’s series-clincher in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals? John “Danny Ainge don’t leave him open” Paxson in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals?

Do you see what I am getting at here? Big moments are made when role players step up and step into the three-point opportunity.

James Jones has built a roster stocked full of players destined for these moments. All will have their chance to contribute to Suns lore in the playoffs. While the expectation is that either Chris Paul or Devin Booker will take the final shot in a close game, if the ball bounces their way, multiple Suns can tightly grip the leather and take the shot if needed:

  • Langston Galloway (.452 3PT%)
  • Mikal Bridges (.4125)
  • Cameron Payne (.404)
  • Frank Kaminsky (.390)
  • Torrey Craig (.375)
  • Jae Crowder (.381)
  • Jevon Carter (.373)
  • Dario Saric (.360)
  • Cameron Johnson (.345)

Does it surprise you to see Johnson’s name so far down on the list? He is currently 11th on the team from deep. Come playoff time, this has to change.

Cam Johnson’s current three-point shooting slump (yes, he has had multiple this season) began on April 15 against the Sacramento Kings. He went 0-for-5 from beyond the arc that night and has one 35%-or-above shooting game since. That was 12 games ago. 12 games in a 72-game season equates to 16% of the season.

Johnson has shot 19.7% from three during these past 12 games and is averaging 6.4 attempts. This isn’t a small sample size we’re talking about.

Narrowing it down even further for us is long-time Suns fan Matt Petersen.

Can we have the old Cam back?

Through his first 48 games of the season:

  • 112.8 offensive rating
  • 58.7% effective field goal percentage
  • 60.7% true shooting percentage

His last 12 have been a much different story:

  • 93.0 offensive rating
  • 38.6% effective field goal percentage
  • 41.3% true shooting percentage

When you watch Cam play, you don’t see anything that would make you think something is wrong. There is no hitch in his shot, he isn’t displaying poor shot selection, nor is he rushing. His form continues to be pristine, his shot smooth, and his follow through is consistent. The shots simply are not falling.

The Suns JAM Session Podcast put together a video showing all of his shots during the current shooting slump (prior to the Atlanta game). Is there something I am missing?

Johnson shoots the three-ball 69.6% of the time so clearly his shot not falling is of concern. What is astonishing is that 67.3% of the time, the shot Cam is taking is either considered open (defender within 4 to 6 feet) or wide open (defender 6+ feet away). He is 15-73 on such shots (20.5%). He is 3-6 (50%) on “tight” shots.

As a rookie last season he was fantastic from deep, making 39% of his 4.8 attempts. He was tops in the league among rookies who attempted more than 200 attempts. The drop-off he has had this season is puzzling. He’s open. His shot looks good. But it hasn’t been elite.

Maybe it’s the undershirt? Perhaps Cam has put on enough muscle and weight that it affects his ability to shoot? Let those bare shoulders breathe young fella!

The Suns have just a few games left in the regular season to tie up any loose ends as they prepare for their first playoff run in over a decade. One of those loose ends needs to be the shooting of Cameron Jordan Johnson. Monty Williams is permitting him to do the one thing that will snap him out of this slump: shoot.

He will find himself open in the playoffs. He will have the opportunity to knock down big threes. Destiny will allow him the chance to break the hearts of the opposition.

He just needs to knock the shot down.

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