Cameron Johnson’s Imminent Return Gives the Suns Their Final Championship Ingredient

The Phoenix Suns are on a heater heading into the 2022 NBA Playoffs. They are 13-4 since All-Star Weekend, with Devin Booker attracting MVP attention and Chris Paul back from injury. As well as this team has played, Phoenix is about to get even better thanks to the imminent return of their most unheralded star.

Third-year forward Cameron Johnson gave the Suns scoring and two-way versatility off the bench. His terrific shooting made him an ideal fit in any given rotation, and his defensive gains made him all the more playable as a switchable wing capable of defending multiple spots.

Johnson has missed Phoenix’s last 12 games with a quad injury. However, he’s nearing a return, and the Suns are getting fully healthy just in time for the playoffs. They are undoubtedly the team to beat in May and June.

Cameron Johnson is on the verge of returning from injury

Johnson paid the price when he scored a career-high 38 points in a March 4 win over the New York Knicks.

During that memorable evening, the Suns wing took a knee to the thigh courtesy of Knicks center Mitchell Robinson. Though Johnson played through the injury, a bone contusion eventually forced him to the sideline. He’s been there ever since, though he’s starting to make progress.

Head coach Monty Williams said Johnson did “everything” in the team’s practice on Saturday. Williams added that the former North Carolina standout is actually ahead of schedule from a conditioning perspective.

“[Johnson]’s conditioning wasn’t terrible,” Williams said, via the Arizona Republic. “I thought he’d be lacking there, but he’s still in progression mode right now.”

Williams cautioned against stating that Johnson would be available this week and said he still needs to go through 5-on-5 work in practice. However, it seems as though the 26-year-old will be back before the end of the regular season.

That’s terrific news for the Suns, who could use Johnson’s 3-and-D skill set and the bench depth he provides.

Johnson makes the Suns better on both ends

The Suns are a better team, albeit marginally, with Cameron Johnson (+0.4 on-off margin) on the floor. Interestingly, that manifests itself mostly on the defensive end.

Phoenix allowed 106.5 points per 100 possessions with Johnson on the floor. When he sits, the Suns give up an additional 2.2 points per 100 possessions. That’s fascinating, since Johnson had been a below-average defender in his first two seasons. Johnson posted negative defensive box plus-minus (DBMP) values in his first two NBA seasons. But he has a career-high 0.8 DBPM in 60 games this season. Outstanding? No. Important? Yes.

The Suns needed 3-and-D types to complement defensive ace Mikal Bridges. It had that need even when Johnson was healthy, which partially explains the decision to acquire Torrey Craig at the trade deadline. Johnson’s return gives Williams that much more flexibility in terms of his rotations and guardability.

Offensively, the sharpshooting forward is the ideal outlet for mid-range savants like Chris Paul and Devin Booker and slashing guards such as Cameron Payne. He is shooting an NBA-best 44.8% from deep this season and is lethal as a catch-and-shoot guy who comes off pin-downs and anticipates spacing. Although Johnson doesn’t knock down many pull-up jumpers, he has the confidence to attack closeouts off the dribble and can either score at the basket or help spark ball movement.

Johnson provides shooting, defense, and length. Most importantly, his return will make the Suns feel whole again. That’s a significant development.

Phoenix is getting fully healthy just in time for the NBA Playoffs

Health is imperative for the NBA Playoffs. That’s why the Suns have to feel even better about their title chances as they bring the regular season to a close.

Chris Paul has looked like his old self since rejoining the rotation on March 24. Cameron Payne admirably filled his shoes and gave the Suns a playmaking boost in CP3’s absence and now settles back into a reserve role. With Cameron Johnson prepared to return in short order, the Suns have essentially everyone available as they prepare to defend their Western Conference crown.

A healthy and supremely confident Phoenix squad is a tall order for any team. The little things Johnson gives the Suns could serve as the final ingredient to the championship mix.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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