Cam Johnson's Chip on His Shoulder is Leading to Early Success in NBA

Cam Johnson
by Cody Cunningham

There were mixed reactions on draft night when it was reported that the Phoenix Suns were acquiring the 11th overall pick in Cam Johnson, but the sharp shooter is quickly proving doubters wrong with his impressive play throughout the first few months of his rookie season.

Known primarily as catch-and-shoot scorer at North Carolina, Johnson was able to showcase his full skillset for Head Coach Monty Williams and General Manager James Jones during the pre-draft process.

“His ability to shoot off the dribble is something that I did not anticipate until I worked him out,” Williams said. “His ability to stay in front of the ball on defense, most rookies don’t know how to do it the way he’s been able to so far.”

Williams and Jones were both clearly impressed enough to acquire Johnson and the trade seems to be paying off in the early part of the season for the Suns. But even as the doubters are quieting down, the chip on Johnson’s shoulder from draft night remains.

“It’s always there and it’s always good to have that chip on your shoulder,” Johnson said. “I’ve had it a couple stops, high school, college, you name it. I’m used to having it there and I like having it there. It’s all a part of it. You have to expect to hear things positive and negative when you go through this career. My job is just to do what I can on the court and contribute to in any way and that’s what I’m going to do.”

That chip is sometimes tough to notice due to his overall positive demeanor off of the court, but once his number is called, Johnson’s locks-in on the matchup like a seasoned veteran. 

“Cam tries to make the right plays, it’s not just his shooting,” Williams said. “You’ll see him out there boxing out, you’ll see him contesting shots, you see him keeping guys in front of him, so I believe he comes into the game locked in and ready to play, and that’s rare for a young guy.”

Johnson currently ranks first among rookies in three-point shooting at 41.8 percent on at least 3.5 attempts per game as he has provided the Suns a huge spark off the bench and has given his coach someone he can rely on to play the right way.

“He’s not your typical rookie,” Williams said. “He talks on defense. He’s coachable to the highest degree. He comes from an unreal program so he has experience in video sessions and fundamentals that are beyond what most rookies are used to…He’s a quick learner and he’s what most coaches dream of when you have a rookie.”

Johnson has only been in the NBA for a few months, but has already earned the respect of his coach due to his poise and maturity on the court.

“It means a lot,” Johnson said. “Stuff we talk about with the coaching staff is being locked-in every time I check-in, on every possession and executing what we want to execute… To hear that, definitely gives me a little confidence, for sure.”

Johnson credits the highs and the lows that he experienced throughout college in assisting his transition to the NBA. As North Carolina’s top scorer with 16.9 points per game last season, Johnson led one of the nation’s most elite programs as it helped prepare him for the next level.

“Not really,” Johnson said when asked if he gets jitters playing in the NBA. “Just go out there and play the game that I know I can play. That requires shooting the ball, defending who I need to defend, maybe crashing the glass a little bit.”

Veterans such as Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker and Frank Kaminsky have all played roles in helping Johnson get adjusted to the NBA level and the rookie seems to be catching on quickly.

“My guys do a good job telling me where I need to be,” Johnson said. “Those guys really help me in my spots, telling me where to be, where to go, what to do. That’s a big part of it all…I think we’ve got a great group here, great group of guys, great group of coaches. It makes it fun to show up every day. With that stuff all in your corner, it makes it all a lot better and the transition a lot easier.” 

Johnson has already found his way into the history books as he became the first rookie in Suns franchise history to knock down at least four three-pointers in back-to-back games. He tied his career-high with 18 points on Thursday as he assisted in leading the Suns to an overtime victory against the New Orleans Pelicans.

“I think our team has the capability to be pretty good and being a part of that is special to me,” Johnson said. “I’m looking to impact the game any way I can and bring home some more wins.”

Johnson and the Suns will look pick up another victory as they close out their four-game road trip in Houston against the Rockets on Saturday. Be sure to catch the action on Fox Sports Arizona.

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