EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Monty Williams confirms Cam Johnson will start for Phoenix Suns this season

Sep 29, 2022, 3:20 PM
Cameron Johnson #23 of the Phoenix Suns attempts a three-point shot over CJ McCollum #3 of the New ...
Cameron Johnson #23 of the Phoenix Suns attempts a three-point shot over CJ McCollum #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half of Game Five of the Western Conference First Round NBA Playoffs at Footprint Center on April 26, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — It was more or less presumed to already be the case but Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams after practice on Thursday confirmed that fourth-year forward Cam Johnson will be starting.

Williams had fun at media day on Monday with a “we’ll see” and a smile when asked about it then, a question that became even more of a thing after Jae Crowder and the Suns mutually agreed the veteran wouldn’t be at training camp on Sunday.

The head coach was answering a question about guard Landry Shamet and his role on the team, speaking to how Johnson’s move opens up space for the reserves to have more opportunities now that the Sixth Man of the Year finalist Johnson is in the starting five.

Johnson on Thursday noted he’s got a ton of familiarity with the other four starters already. He’s played a total of 239 minutes with that foursome in the last two seasons and has made 27 combined starts. He rattled off situations like his first training camp when Kelly Ourbe Jr. and Bridges were knicked up so he was running with the first unit as a rookie.

“It’s not completely new,” Johnson said. “It’s just getting acclimated to playing with that group full-time first unit. That’s the only change.”

Williams outlined Johnson’s game and the transition.

“He’s more than a shooter,” Williams said. “He’s got playmaking, he has the ability to be a connector because he’s a willing passer and his athletic ability is something most people don’t talk about. … Defensively is where I told him he has to draw the line in the sand, if you will.

“When he’s guarding smaller guys or if some of these dynamic guys that he’s gotta guard. Conversely, I think about those guys having to guard him and that is something that’s exciting when you think about how it could open up our offense.”

On that note, Williams said while it’s only been three practices, the overall goal is going to be having Bridges and Johnson control the flow of more possessions with the ball in their hands. That is something Suns fans were really calling for last regular season, and the limited amount of options on the ball bit the Suns in their postseason exit.

“The hope is he and Mikal can help out with offensive initiation,” Williams said of Johnson. “Those guys have the ability to facilitate and I just haven’t given them the chance. And we’ve talked about being comfortable with uncomfortable change. There’s going to be times where it doesn’t look great but I think that’s where they’re going to grow.

“Hopefully, as the season moves forward and we get to a place where we’re hitting our stride and moving into the playoffs hopefully those guys are more comfortable because we let them explore and make mistakes and figure some things out. But they both have the capability to expand our offense that way. And that part is exciting when you think about those opportunities.”

Williams said the offense has always been a bit of a more free-flowing system where players can play and suggest things that eventually become plays, as the philosophy is more of “making plays not running plays.” He said they’ve got enough in as it is right now but wrinkles can develop over the course of the season with Johnson in mind. They’ll run their normal stuff to start and then figure out other ways to go about it.

One of those new dynamics appeased point guard Chris Paul, who is glad he’s not bringing the ball up every possession anymore. We saw Crowder doing a lot more of that in the playoffs last year.

Johnson called rebounding and physicality a “huge focus” for him this year, a part of Crowder’s game Crowder specialized in. Crowder’s rebounding rate wasn’t all that high by any means but he had 21 regular season games and seven more in the postseason the last two years when he grabbed at least eight. There will be nights and matchups when Johnson has to get after it.

Johnson wants to be much better at rebounding than he has in the past. Johnson referenced how his coaches at the University of North Carolina used to preach rebounding to him, so he’s going to give Roy Williams and other coaches a call to get hyped up about that part of his game.

He has told us previously that he also gets constant feedback from his family, and his mom is the one that gets on him about crashing the glass.

So how many does she want to see Johnson grab a game as a starter?

“Mom wants 10! Mom’s greedy! Mom wants a lot!” he said.

Does she think Johnson is Deandre Ayton?

“Yeah, exactly!”

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