Phoenix Suns: Making the Case for Cameron Johnson to Start this Year

Phoenix Suns, Cameron Johnson (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Cameron Johnson (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Maybe a few fans initially disliked the pick, and Coby White surely felt surprised when he heard about it, but the Phoenix Suns knew what they were doing when they selected Cameron Johnson during the 2019 NBA Draft.

Originally, the Minnesota Timberwolves chose Johnson, but they did so according to Phoenix’s preferences to complete a trade. Regardless, Johnson found himself wearing a Suns cap on draft night, and a Suns jersey for the next two seasons.

During those first two years, Johnson averaged 9.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.9 triples per game. Most notably, he helped Phoenix make the NBA Finals last year, operating as an incredibly efficient 3-and-D tool, putting up his team’s highest true shooting marks at 69.3 percent.

But despite his high selection and productive play, the Suns likely plan to keep him vaulted as a reserve once again during the 2021-22 season, working as an understudy yet again to veteran Jae Crowder.

Make no mistake about it, Crowder remains an important cog within the Phoenix basketball machine. However, the Suns need to recognize Johnson’s talents and swap his minutes with Crowder’s if they want to take things to another level.

Why Cameron Johnson Should Start for the Phoenix Suns

Before jumping into anything else, when you look at Johnson’s numbers compared to Crowder’s with his fewer minutes per game accounted for, they look undeniably better.

Last year, Johnson averaged more points and fewer turnovers per 100 possessions than Crowder. He also put up a higher field goal percentage, and averaged just 0.4 fewer 3-pointers made per 100 possessions, despite the triple being Crowder’s bread and butter.

But Johnson’s notable upside attaches an exclamation to these statistics. At only 25 years old, all those marks poise to increase substantially during this season as he continues to come into his own as a pro. Although still effective, Crowder resembles an older player at this point, still in his prime, but at the back end of it nonetheless.

Additionally, Crowder’s size at the power forward spot strikes as his largest flaw when starting for the Suns. He definitely packs enough muscle weighing 234 pounds, but his height leaves him more fit to play the small forward, standing at six-foot-six.

On the other hand, Johnson stretches out into a power forward’s frame more adequately, owning two inches on Crowder. He once lacked the muscle to consistency log minutes at the position, but after bulking up this summer, he now competes well with Crowder.

Also with Johnson coming into his third year and with countless NBA postseason minutes now under his belt, the “he’s too young” excuse no longer holds up. Like Phoenix’s other young stars, the time to unleash Johnson is now. Monty Williams did so with Mikal Bridges a year ago, which ended up going down as one of his best decisions to date as head coach for the Suns.

From a financial standpoint, refusing to start Johnson might make some sense. With Bridges and Deandre Ayton up for extension now, and Johnson due next year, Suns ownership might want to keep him benched until after the 2022 offseason, possibly keeping his production capped, and his asking price consequently capped as well.

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But winning basketball must come first and foremost. The Suns own a solid chance to secure their first ever NBA title this year, and they need their best hands on deck.