The Suns’ Cam Johnson Doesn’t Buy ‘Positionless’ Basketball – Even as a Shooting Big With Handles
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You might expect a player who began his basketball career as a point guard but grew into the body of a power forward to have some flexible ideas about positionality in the modern NBA, but for Phoenix Suns Rookie Cam Johnson, that's not quite right.
The North Carolina product began playing the sport as a 6-foot-2 floor general, but grew four inches by his junior year of high school, and stood at 6-foot-8 by the time he got to Pitt, his first NCAA stop.
After graduating from his hometown college -- Johnson is from Moon Township, Pennsylvania -- in just three years, he eventually transferred to UNC as a graduate transfer, picking up a master's degree on the way to becoming a 2019 NBA Lottery pick, drafted No. 11 overall.
While the extra time Johnson took to develop his game at the collegiate level has helped prepare him for a productive rookie season in the NBA, the passing and shooting skills he developed as a shorter basketball player helped shape the player he is today.
Adding six inches and a fair amount of muscle to his frame didn't hurt, either.
But when Off The Glass caught up with the former Tarheel in December, Johnson had some surprising views on positionality in a supposedly positionless NBA.
"I think there's a baseline skill levels all prospects should have, but it just depends on what you do," offered the Pennsylvanian big man on whether it'd be beneficial for all players to be trained in skills typically slotted for guard development.
"For example, my older brother he was frontcourt guy -- it's funny when you save frontcourt guy, I don't naturally picture myself in that position," he continued.
"But my brother, he was a big-time frontcourt guy and those guards skills, it just wasn't his game," Johnson added. "I mean he could dribble the ball and he could pass the ball, but he was a frontcourt player so I think some guys are just kind of wired to play certain positions sometimes and that's just how it is."
The former Panther didn't necessarily disavow the usefulness of working with prospects early on to see if guard-oriented skills like ball handling, passing and shooting come naturally to taller, beefier prospects, but drew the line for some at being able to make use of such training.
"I think some guys have that versatility whereas they grow, [and if] they have a guard background, that's very helpful but there are some guys that have always been big."
Johnson is a thoughtful, even cerebral player who has placed a high value on his education as part of his NCAA experience, something he values greatly even after a contentious transfer process could have tainted his support for the collegiate avenue into the league.
So that the first-year Suns forward has nuanced views on the potential ways players can develop their game in today's NBA shouldn't surprise -- even for a player whose unique talents grew from one such unorthodox paths.
It is perhaps a reminder that for all the dreamers out there trying to stay one step ahead of the league's development curve, there's concrete individuals with unique needs and abilities.
Even in a world where we want to believe anyone could become anything with the right training and support, reality steps in to remind us we all have our limits and abilities to consider -- and concepts like 'positionless' basketball won't always play to the strengths of every prospect with a chance at making it as a pro.