There was a little bit of déjà vu when Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson missed nearly a month of games late in this newly-ended regular season.
Last season, Johnson had a wrist injury leading to a late-season absence that lasted six games (about two and a half weeks) and left him no time to ‘get right’ before the playoffs started. He put up single-digit point totals in seven of his first 10 games back. He only played 21-plus minutes in three of those 10 games; no chance to get his sea legs back under him.
This season, Johnson’s absence due to a thigh contusion (thanks to Mitchell Robinson’s knee) lasted 13 games (about four weeks) giving him a whopping six games to get right before the playoffs started. Comparatively, in these six games, he’s scored in double-digits in half of these contests and played 21-plus minutes in all but the first game back.
The only area where I have statistical concern is missing Johnson’s aggression in getting to the basket. His five games leading up to the injury boasted a strong 0.414 free throw rate (free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts). Since coming back, that rate is only at 0.207, which really hurts the spacing provided by the higher rate when defenses had to respect both the shot and the drive.
The poor three-point shooting since coming back – 19.4% on 6.0 attempts per game – doesn’t bug me as much, simply because he’s earned the benefit of the doubt that over this long of a break, he’ll be able to get enough practice reps to get back closer to his excellence over the earlier portions of the season – 44.8% on 5.9 attempts.
As for what we can gleam from the film, the part that stands out most is the way he uses his lower body on his jumper.
In his first game back against Memphis, you could see that either the strength wasn’t all the way back to that right leg, or he just didn’t have confidence in it. Either way what you get is a questionable release due to not getting that solid knee bend; he would go on to finish this game 0-3 from deep.
A couple games later when the Suns played the Lakers, that strength – or confidence in it – started to take shape. You had really solid bends before shots like on this one…
As well as here where Johnson knows the contact is coming and, to use a football expression, stayed in the pocket in the face of the defense long enough to get off a good shot. He’d finish this game 3-7 from deep.
Defense is another place where that post-injury confidence can be judged, and it’s really apparent on this possession where powerful guard Russell Westbrook aims to barrel through Johnson only for Johnson to stand firm, take the contact, and draw a charge:
In a soundbite I referenced during a column last week, Johnson, himself, talked about how important these games before the playoffs were, mentioning the conditioning aspects specifically:
Cam Johnson said the quad is doing great, and unlike last year, when he had to jump right into the playoffs after dealing with a wrist injury, he has time to get his rhythm back - even if the rough shooting hasn’t been exactly how he wanted it to happen: pic.twitter.com/pwnt8rTBDB— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) April 5, 2022
Johnson will be asked to be a true sixth (or seventh, depending on you view Cam Payne) man throughout this stretch run, and it seems like everything is lining up right for the Suns to capitalize with a healthy squad.