The Kevin Durant sweepstakes are over – or at least on a long pause – for the Phoenix Suns. The roster that James Jones has constructed during this past off-season is what we should expect to see take the court when the team tips off against the Dallas Mavericks on October 19. That is our reality, and it’s a reality we should be perfectly fine with.
For the third consecutive year, the team is poised to field a starting lineup of Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, and Deandre Ayton. That is a starting five that combined their forces to assist the team in winning 64 games, the best ever seen in the franchise's 55-year history.
How can this team improve? They already possess organic chemistry and, seeing as the starting five has been together longer than Flight of the Concords was on HBO, have an instinctual brand of basketball that is hard to replicate. Still, opportunities exist.
We are taking a look at five different ways the Phoenix Suns can improve from within during the 2022-23 NBA season. We’re looking at five different players who have an opportunity for growth in the upcoming season.
Here are your candidates:
- Devin Booker — to top 8 player in the NBA
- Deandre Ayton — to top 20 player in the NBA
- Mikal Bridges — to top 30 player in the NBA
- Cameron Johnson — to top 50 player in the NBA
- Cameron Payne — to top backup point guard in the NBA
Let’s take them one at a time, with a little help from the Bright Side staff.
Next up? None other than Cam Johnson.
Cameron Johnson — to top 50 player in the NBA
Why it needs to happen:
One of the most valuable assets a team can wish for in the modern NBA is... two-way wings that have size. Their importance has been shown year after year by teams that make a run for the NBA Finals, and that trend isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.
The Phoenix Suns have a pair of them developing in Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, aka the “Twins”. Mikal’s defensive impact is admirable, but his offensive game can disappear from time to time when the game tightens up. Cam Johnson plays within the offense beautifully, but sometimes almost too much to his own detriment. It’s time to take off the training wheels.
Each of them has a lot of room for growth despite promising starts to their young careers, as Mikal has already been outlined here. Now, let’s dive into the other twin.
Believe it or not, Cam Johnson is older than both Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges, as he is 26 going on 27 in March. While age isn’t always the be-all-end-all in development, he theoretically should be entering his prime shortly.
Phoenix will need both him and Mikal Bridges to take leaps next season in order to offset any potential regression from the 37-year-old Chris Paul. Cam was well on his way to that leap before sustaining the leg contusion against the Knicks during his thrilling breakout performance in the Garden.
This game was magical, and it was what many thought would be the start of Cam Johnson taking THAT leap. It was derailed, unfortunately.
Johnson will need to work on adding strength to keep up with bigger forwards down low. His perimeter defense and team defense have been quite effective, but he did get tossed around by Luka Doncic and others multiple times in the paint during the past two postseason runs.
His ultra-competitive nature isn’t something he’s overly vocal about nor does he typically show a ton of emotion on the court. But make no mistake, he cares about winning. A lot.
How it can happen:
Step one: take over Jae Crowder’s starting spot.
Step two: run away with it... and stay healthy
The next step in Cam Johnson’s game is offensive aggression and consistency. We’ve seen what a confident Cam Johnson can do. The 38-point outburst against the Knicks was a prime example of what he’s capable of, and it was no fluke if you look at the games leading up to it.
He had an 18-game stretch (started 7 games) where he averaged 15.6 points per game to go with 3.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists on a 52/50/92 shooting split in 28.5 minutes per game. The Suns went 15-3 during that stretch.
Likelihood it happens:
Entering top-50 player status is a difficult leap to make. Right now, Cam Johnson is probably seen as a borderline top-100 player depending on who you ask, but I’d comfortably put him in that 80-90 range tier at a glance with a chance to move to the top 75 with gradual improvement across the board.
The key ultimately comes down to his role on the team and whether or not he goes out and takes what’s his. His numbers as a starter last season were promising.
Starter (16 games): 16.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 65.9 TS%, 32.3 minutes per game.
Reserve (50 games): 11.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 61.1 TS%, 24.1 minutes per game.
I believe he has another leap in him, and even if it’s not good enough to put him into the top-50 player consideration, he will be a high-level starter for years to come.
If I had to put a percentage chance of it actually happening, it would sit around 40% for me.
Move aside, Jae Crowder. It’s Cam time.