With the 2018-19 season ending in excruciating pain for the Philadelphia 76ers, the only thing you can do is keep moving forward. The next rational step for the team is to decide which players they will add through the NBA Draft, which is just over a month away.
Leading up to the draft, several writers here at Liberty Ballers will take a look at different prospects and break down their game, examining the four categories of offense, defense, positional fit, and draft projection. First up in the draft breakdown series is North Carolina Tar Heels star Cameron Johnson.
Make no mistake about it. Cameron Johnson has the tools to become a big-time player on the offensive side of the court. The fifth-year senior had an incredible final year at the University of North Carolina and in all likelihood would have won the ACC Player of the Year Award were it not for Zion Williamson.
Johnson continued to show off the deep range that has many teams ready to take him in the first round, shooting a career best 45 percent from 3, up from the pedestrian 34 percent he put up in his first year with the Tar Heels. As one of the veterans of the team, he led by example on the court, putting up career-highs in most major statistical categories (Points, FG%, 2PT%, 3PT%, Rebounds, Assists, and Steals).
As you can see in this video, Johnson has a very quick release. From the moment he turns the corner, he receives the ball and gets it out of his hands in less than a second.
While he is known most for his shooting ability, Johnson has also improved on his ability to get into the lane and be effective. Standing at 6-foot-9, Johnson uses his long limbs to get shots up over defenders. He won’t be seen posting up down low, but when he drives with the ball in his hands, he often gets up and over a defense.
It seems like this is the year Johnson realized that not many college defenses can stop him, as his ability to get into the lane resulted in more frequent trips to the free throw line. Making a consistent 81 percent from the charity stripe on a career best 3.1 attempts per game, Johnson showed that even if his shot isn’t dropping, he can find other ways to have an impact on the scoreboard.
If Cameron Johnson wants to have success at the next level, he is going to have to put on weight. His wiry frame may help him get shots up over defenders, but his inside game could be nonexistent if he can’t fight down low with the big men of the NBA. Right now, Johnson may have to rely on his jump shot to get rotational minutes, but with the stroke he has, that may not be the worst thing.
Johnson currently relies heavily on his long limbs and athleticism to make plays on the defensive end. While that works at the collegiate level, the same can’t be said in the NBA. Johnson has the long limbs that are helpful when disrupting plays, as evidenced by the career-high 1.2 steals he averaged per game this season, but when he is forced to guard down low, he has trouble keeping bigger players in front of him.
Johnson has the capability to become a solid defender at the next level, but that probably won’t happen until he gets used to the professional game. Playing for the Tar Heels, Johnson also benefited from playing alongside some of the better defenders in college basketball. Johnson’s solid defensive win share of 1.4 was actually the lowest in the starting lineup for North Carolina, showing that if he made mistakes, his teammates were usually able to help.
Known for his offense at this point in his career, Cameron Johnson can become a decent defender with improvement to his body, as well as NBA-level coaching.
Cameron Johnson is a pure small forward at the next level. He is going to start out as a sharpshooting bench option from day one in the NBA, but he has the capability of becoming much more. His athleticism, coupled with his quickness and body type, should turn him into a contributor from the start. If he plays anything like he did in college, he could become a starting option for a team by the end of the year.
The Sixers need a player like Cameron Johnson to add to their bench, but whether or not he is available for the Sixers with the 24th overall pick is another story. With so many question marks surrounding the Sixers’ roster heading into next season, Johnson could be a big help to their wing depth. By spending a first round pick on a wing, the team can focus the money not being spent on big stars on a backup center and point guard.
As of now, Cameron Johnson is projected to be selected right around when the Sixers are on the clock. It’s harder for teams late in the first round to find day one difference makers, but if Johnson can slip to 24th overall, he should be able to carve out a sizable role rather quickly.
Whether or not the Sixers are able to bring back several key contributors could tell you how much of a role Johnson would have to start the year. Adding another playable wing should be one of the teams’ priorities, regardless of other offseason additions. Coupling a sharpshooting rookie with another young player projected to play a big role in Zhaire Smith would help the Sixers not only have an improved bench, but also several affordable options to fill out the roster. The Sixers are a team that is quickly becoming very expensive, so finding players on rookie deals who can help from the jump would be massive for them.