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UNC’s Roy Williams: Suns got ‘best shooter in draft’ in Cameron Johnson

(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

While it wasn’t the pick many expected Phoenix to make, Cameron Johnson’s former college coach feels the Suns hit a home run in what they are getting out of the No. 11 of the 2019 NBA Draft.

University of North Carolina head coach Roy Williams broke down Johnson’s intangibles on the Doug & Wolf Show on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station Friday morning.

And although Johnson has proven to be a knockdown shooter, Williams believes there’s more to the 23-year-old forward than meets the eye.

“First of all they drafted the best shooter in the entire draft,” Williams said when asked what the Suns were getting in Johnson. “Secondly they drafted a guy who’s ready to play, thirdly they drafted a guy who’s one most disciplined, focused young men I’ve ever coached. A great human being, but he’s going to be able to come in and play.

“Cam’s going to go to practice, then he’s going to the trainer, and then he’s going to the weight room and then he’s going to get extra shots up. It’s going to be an 8-10 hour day of work for him because that’s the way he approaches things.”

With the pick considered a reach by most, mock drafts from around the league had him in the 19-27 pick range, the Suns were one of the surprises in this year’s NBA Draft.

But don’t discredit the plan the Suns’ front office seemingly has in place, said Williams.

“Those guys, whether it’s James [Jones] or Monty [Williams], they study that stuff and they know what they want and they know what they’re doing, but they’re pretty dang good or they wouldn’t have a job to have,” Williams said.

Reportedly trading former small forward T.J. Warren and the No. 32 pick to the Pacers for cash before sending the No. 6 pick to the Timberwolves in exchange for Dario Saric and 11th pick, the Suns wheeled and dealed ahead of Thursday night’s NBA Draft.

They kept it going during the draft as well, agreeing to a deal that netted them the No. 24 pick and center Aron Baynes from Boston for the Bucks’ 2020 protected first-round pick.

“He would not of lasted the second round, he was not going to go past the early 20s,” Williams said about Johnson going at No. 11. “I had conversations with everybody, but the bottom line is he can help make Phoenix a better basketball team and a great, great person in the community.”

There’s certainly question marks surrounding Johnson, much like many other draft picks as they transition from college to the NBA.

One of the biggest questions, however, is Johnson’s health, most notably his hips.

The forward has dealt with hip issues dating back to his high school days. After venturing to UNC after transferring from Pittsburgh, Johnson underwent an arthroscopic procedure to correct the issue.

“I think we [have complete confidence in Johnson’s health] and like I said, the surgeons told us ‘sorry but you’re only going to have him for one more year’ because it’s going to get better and better,” Williams said. “I believe the guy, he’s one of the best hip guys in the entire country, and he showed that last year. Free of movement, free of pain is a better way to put it.”

Free of pain last season, Johnson posted career numbers in nearly every category.

Starting 36 games for the Tar Heels in his final year, Johnson averaged 16.9 points, shooting just over 55.6% from the field and 45.7% from deep, all career highs. He also posted high marks in rebounds (5.8) and assists (2.4).

“You know what they call that thing that hangs from the ceiling or they attach to the wall? That’s called a scoreboard,” Williams said about the forward’s shooting stroke.

“It’s not a draw-charge board, it’s not a dive-on-the-floor board — as much as we coaches like to talk about that crap — it is called a scoreboard and that boy can score the ball.”

Johnson may have been the lone UNC player to be selected by the Suns, but he wasn’t the only ACC player Phoenix targeted.

Using the pick they received in the reported trade with Boston, the Suns added Virginia point guard Ty Jerome, who led the ACC with 5.5 assists per game last season.

Williams, who coached against the point guard, had nothing but high praises for the 21-year-old.

“They’ve got a guy who’s a heady point guard, steady, tough kid who can make big shots, good passer who’s a winner,” Williams said. “You think about all the games they’ve won over the last three years that Ty was there, they got a great package and there’s no question.

“If I’m a Phoenix Suns fan, I’m feeling good this morning. If I’m in the Phoenix Suns front office I’m feeling great this morning. … I’ve got to find out how much season tickets are and see if it’s worth buying season tickets. I’m only going to get there once or twice a year.”

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