Looking ahead to the 2019 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs could select UNC forward Cameron Johnson to provide floor spacing and depth next year.
Legendary coaches have a tricky way of harnessing the potential of their budding stars. In his time as head coach at the University of North Carolina, Roy Williams has done an excellent job of showcasing his player’s abilities by applying the proper guidance to his personnel and leading them to success after their collegiate careers. Williams has been noted as a key contributor in the growth of historic San Antonio Spurs role player Danny Green during his early stages.
A similar concept would apply if the Spurs elected to choose North Carolina small forward Cameron Johnson with one of their two first-round picks in the upcoming draft. After three years at Pittsburgh and two in Chapel Hill, Johnson has honed his skills and set himself apart as one of the best three-point specialists in the NCAA.
In his final season as a Tar Heel, Johnson proved to the world that he’s NBA-ready by showcasing staggering range and outstanding effort on both ends of the floor. The 23-year-old put up 16.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game in his senior campaign, securing career-best numbers in each of those categories. Some scouts and front offices may be intimidated by his age, but the Spurs have shown a willingness to draft players based on fit and Johnson makes a lot of sense for the current construction of this team.
Consistency is the key to Johnson’s game – he finished the year at 64.8 percent true shooting and an impressive player efficiency rating (PER) of 24.9. Using his 6-foot-9 frame and quick trigger, Johnson provided matchup nightmares off of switches or flashes around the three-point line this season. With the modern NBA trending in the favor of floor spacing forwards, Johnson has the potential to be a great long term fit with any team that rolls the dice on him come mid-June.
Johnson jumped from a Box Plus/Minus of 7.6 in the 2017-18 season to a whopping 13.0 in 2018-19. He’s very much a product of his environment on the hardwood, excelling within a team-based game plan that relies on him without asking him to do too much.
In terms of fit, Cameron Johnson makes a lot of sense for San Antonio. Even though they shot the highest three-point percentage of any team last season, floor spacing has been an issue for the Spurs. The quality of their three-point looks is keen, resulting in higher percentages, but the volume is limited. Throwing a 45.7 percent three-point marksman like Johnson into the mix ensures additional space to operate for ball handlers while providing a quality scoring option on the wing.
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He’s never been a primary distributor, but Johnson is a capable passer within team sets and around the wing. Johnson is the type of player who learns his role, sticks with it, and does everything in his power to provide assistance beyond what’s expected of him. Defense isn’t necessarily his forte, but Johnson works hard to keep up with the opposition and contest shots as willfully as possible.
Taking Johnson with the 19th pick is justifiable, but there will be a handful of talented players available in that range. San Antonio could hit big on a more versatile prospect with their first pick but may opt for the safer pick with UNC’s leading scorer.
Forward Nassir Little is a more highly touted prospect despite being completely outperformed by Johnson throughout the season. Nevertheless, both are anticipated to be selected within the Top 20 of this draft class and should be considered by Spurs brass through the pre-draft process. Little is a flashier prospect with a seemingly higher ceiling, but Johnson fits the Spurs’ immediate needs better.
Regardless of which way the Spurs lean, some team will be very excited to welcome Johnson to their program.