Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This breakdown focuses on North Carolina forward Cameron Johnson.
It is often said that selecting for “need” is a fool’s errand in the NBA Draft and that is particularly true in the lottery. In general, teams that are on the board with top-14 selections are building for the future and, with that in mind, settling on prospects that “fit” on a roster is often overvalued. Later in the draft, however, there can be value in finding players that can slide easily into specific roles and, in the case of North Carolina forward Cameron Johnson, he is likely hoping that a team envisions that kind of fit.
Johnson turned 23 in March, making him one of the oldest prospects available in the 2019 NBA Draft. That reality stems from the fact that Johnson appeared in five (!) college basketball seasons, beginning his career at Pittsburgh and missing the vast majority of his true freshman season as a result of shoulder surgery. Then, Johnson played two more years at Pittsburgh before transferring to North Carolina, where he finished his career as an All-ACC selection during his senior season in 2018-19.
That is a long and winding road for a prospect most believe will be tabbed with a first-round investment on June 20. In fact, it may seem wild that Johnson seems to be assured of that fate but, in taking a deeper look, there is a smooth transition (at least on paper) for Johnson in that he is one of the best shooters in this class.
It would be quite easy to argue that Johnson is actually the best long-range marksman available in this year’s draft and the numbers back that up. He presents a tremendous shooting stroke that doesn’t inspire skepticism about his production and, as a senior, Johnson converted 45.7 percent from three-point distance on 5.8 attempts per game. In zooming out, Johnson buried 41.2 percent of his three-pointers (on 5.6 attempts per game) over his last three college seasons and, simply put, there is no question that he will be an above-average NBA shooter.
That kind of projection allows for imagination in where Johnson could land because, well, every NBA team could use more shooting. Teams choosing in the back half of the first round likely enter 2019-20 with playoff (or title) aspirations and, at Johnson’s age, he’ll need to make an impact sooner rather than later to justify a first-round landing spot. Still, it wouldn’t be difficult to envision Johnson playing a reserve role for a playoff team in the near term, particularly if he can hold up defensively.
Johnson measured at 6’8.5 and 205 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine, which essentially backs up his listed numbers from college. He has a 6’10 wingspan, which is solid but unspectacular, and he is not, by any means, an elite athlete. He isn’t a complete non-athlete, though, measuring reasonably well on combine tests, and Johnson should, at least in theory, be able to use his solid length to his advantage at the NBA level. His movements are often stiff but, as a pure wing at the professional level, his lack of measurements doesn’t have to be a glaring issue.
Defensively, Johnson wasn’t a lock-down player at the college level and there is reason to believe he might be below-average in the NBA. He isn’t a playmaker and, despite solid positioning, he profiles as someone teams will be looking to “hide” on that end, rather than feature as a stopper type. It is fair to project defense as an overall weakness for Johnson but, unlike some pure shooters in his mold, it isn’t impossible to see him holding up effectively in the near future.
On the offensive front, his three-point shooting is clearly the appeal but, in an overall sense, Johnson took a major step forward during his final college campaign. He flashed the ability to attack closeouts off the dribble, at least as a secondary option, and Johnson’s efficiency made a significant leap. He posted a 64.8 percent true shooting as a senior, with a career-best 55.6 percent mark on two-point attempts (up from 50 percent on twos previously) and a career-best free throw rate. Johnson doesn’t profile as a player that will generate offense for others but he can shoot from any plane, operate off screens and fire at the rim from confined spaces in a way that should entice professional scouts.
To put it plainly, Johnson projects as a specialist and, while there is nothing inherently wrong with that (late in the first round, anyway), it is the reality through he should be evaluated. For playoff-bound teams with glaring weaknesses in the area of shooting (Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, etc.), Johnson would make a lot of sense. For teams with long-term aspirations, he wouldn’t serve as the same kind of priority but, even with a team like the Atlanta Hawks, Johnson could snugly fit a role if he were to slip to the No. 35 overall pick.
What you see is what you get with Cameron Johnson and, considering the way he shoots the basketball, that isn’t a bad thing.