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Once considered risky NBA lottery pick, Suns' shooting star channeling his inner Klay Thompson

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Suns coach Monty Williams has often said Cameron Johnson could start for most NBA teams.

Phoenix is clearly one of them.

The sharp shooting forward is averaging 16.9 points on 53.9% shooting (51.8% from 3) in eight starts this season for Jae Crowder, who missed five games in health and safety protocols, one to recondition and two more since recently suffering a left wrist contusion against Indiana.

Johnson was considered a risky lottery pick for the Suns in the 2019 draft, but he’s having a career year in his third NBA season out of North Carolina. Averaging 11.8 points this season, the 6-8, 210-pound Johnson is bigger and stronger, shown more versatile on offense and is an improving defender.

And he’s hitting a career-best 43.1% from 3 to rank seventh in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage.

Johnson is becoming someone the Suns (38-9) must seriously consider offering a rookie extension going into the fourth and final year of his original rookie deal.

Duane Rankin sat down with Johnson and talked about the goal of being the first team to reach 40 wins this season, believing he’s one of the league’s best shooters and studying Klay Thompson.

Q: What you think about (Suns GM) James Jones, a man who believed in you to make that move up to draft you, getting a multiyear contract extension?

A: “It’s really cool to see. He deserves it. This is the only team I’ve played for, obviously, but it’s been a lot of fun and for everything I’ve heard about the league, this is a really special group. I have a ton of appreciation for our front office. Beyond getting drafted by them, it’s just the comfort level they made me feel when I was in Phoenix for my workouts and getting to know the program, the organization. It felt like people you could trust, good people and people who were doing the right thing. So, I appreciate them eternally for that.”

Cameron Johnson (right) said there have been a lot of benefits having Chris Paul as a teammate.
Cameron Johnson (right) said there have been a lot of benefits having Chris Paul as a teammate.

Q: Have you seen a change that Cam Johnson is on the opponent’s scouting report?

A: “It’s been the same probably since my rookie year. Just run him off the (3-point) line a lot. You’ll see a lot of teams not help as much. It’s nothing new. I’ve been seeing that my whole life, but opposed to maybe how it was when I was in college, I didn’t have a Chris Paul and Devin Booker. I had a Coby White in college. That was pretty close. Luke Maye, but no Chris Paul or Devin Booker on my scout then.”

Q: Saw a dribble drive you made (Monday against Utah in Phoenix), got right to the rim and scored. I know you’ve been working on it, but how much more do you want to do that?

A: “A lot more. A lot more in the right opportunities, in the right spaces, in the right environments. The one on the last game, the bigs were all pulled up and (the Jazz) didn’t have a true big in the game. Their biggest players on the court were all pulled up. So the rim was open. Learning how to take advantage of more opportunities like that is going to go a long way.”

Q: Just going back to your rookie year, you went through quite a bit to get to this point now. Does that make this season even more rewarding?

A: “Always. Always. Been quite a bit since high school. That’s the fun of it, man. The journey. The ups and downs. It’s pretty comforting knowing that you’ve been through a couple of handfuls worth of downs, but by the grace of God, you were able to find another up. When the downs come, you just keep your head down and work and try to keep going in a positive direction. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”

Q: Do you view yourself one the better shooters in the league?

A: “I do. I do. I view myself in that top category.”

Cameron Johnson is averaging 51.8% from the 3-point line as a starter.
Cameron Johnson is averaging 51.8% from the 3-point line as a starter.

Q: You brought a comment Klay Thompson made about if he misses 100 shots, he’s shooting the next one, an immediate reaction was, wow, that’s how Cam Johnson views himself. If you could just expand on having that mindset?

A: “It’s been a mindset that I’ve tried to keep with me for a long time now. Klay is one of those guys that I’ve watched since early college. Very early college. I used to sit down with one of my coaches and literally watch Klay Thompson footwork on film for a long time and go right to the court and work on it. So, a lot of the stuff I do, you can probably see what I’ve picked from him. That’s one of the guys that I’ve loved watching my whole career.”

Q: Lastly, you told me you guys want to be the first team to 40 wins. How important is it to have those type of goals in a long season?

A: “Never get satisfied. Don’t get ‘Happy on the farm’ as Coach would say. You know he has all of those. We want to do something real special and there’s certain parts of the season where you just need to crack down and find that goal that gets you to those wins. There’s a couple of injuries right now, come back from a long road trip. Got another East coast trip coming up. It’s a lot going on. Just staying locked in on our main goal, just winning games, is very important and getting to that 40-mark is one of those goals.”

Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Suns' rising star Cameron Johnson channeling his inner Klay Thompson

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