By R.L. Bynum
Good defense is hard to prove statistically other than with steals and blocks. You have to watch a player defend talented opponents. But, make no mistake about it, Cameron Johnson’s defense is one of the reasons that the Phoenix Suns are in their first NBA Finals since 1993.
Johnson may get more attention with his 3-point prowess and his shooting percentage but his talent as a defender has the full attention of Suns coach Monty Williams after that ability helped them eliminate the Los Angeles Clippers in six games to win the Western Conference title.
“His defense in the Clippers series really helped us,” Williams said during a Saturday press conference. “His ability to stay in front of the ball, against different types of offensive guys, is something that we value. His work ethic — he’s an everyday worker. He’s a versatile player, high character, has an edge to him.”
Johnson had three steals in Game 5 of the Clippers series.
Johnson missed the Suns’ series-clinching 130–103 victory Wednesday in Los Angeles with a non-COVID-19 illness. Williams says that Johnson is fine now and was just sick.
Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, with reserve Justin Jackson, is Tuesday at 9 p.m. on ABC.
Although Johnson made the last of his 11 regular-season starts in an April 25 game, Williams suggests that he plays to that level.
“I look at him, and I’ve told him a number of times, he’s a starter in this league and he has to see himself that way,” Williams said. “He provides so much more than just the shooting — his ability to attack the basket.”
Many times in the Suns’ half-court sets, Johnson is in the corner awaiting a pass to attempt a 3-point shot. Williams appreciates his shooting ability but would like to see more aggressiveness.
“The thing that I wish he would do more is just go to the hole and just punch it on people because he has that kind of athletic ability and he has the handle to get to the basket,” Williams said. “So, we’ve been trying to get him to attack the rim with force because he can get there and he can finish.”
Johnson connected on 9 of 16 3-point attempts (56.3%) in the Clippers series and made 21 of 30 field-goal attempts (70%).
Former Wake Forest star Chris Paul, Phoenix’s clear leader, told the Arizona Republic that Johnson has impressed him.
“Cam is better than I even thought,” Paul said. “The part that sucked for him is that he wasn’t with us the other night when we won [Game 6]. But he’s always with us. It’s such a luxury to have a guy like that on your team who, if he doesn’t start, he’s cool with it. If he comes off the bench, he’s cool with it. That’s why we’ve got a real team.”
And Johnson has a real shot winning an NBA title.