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Cam Johnson thriving in new role on offense

Cam Johnson has always been a 3-and-D threat but in new-look Nets lineup, he’s had a chance to expand his game.

Houston Rockets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Cam Johnson saved the day for the Brooklyn Nets two nights ago when he led a second half surge that finally overcame the Houston Rockets at Barclays Center. Johnson finished with 31 points, his second 30-piece this month, shooting 11-of-18 overall, including 5-of-8 from three. He also registered seven rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block in 35 minutes.

While a lot of attention is (rightly) directed at Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie, the two best known returns in the Nets deadline deals, CamJ is having the best stretch of his career, averaging a quiet but effective 16.7 points along with 4.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.4 steals and a block in his 20 games with Brooklyn. Only his 3-point shooting percentage, 45.5 in Phoenix, has dipped to 36.5, but it’s slowly creeping back up. Johnson has hit 39.1% from deep in the month of March. In two of the last three games, both wins, Johnson made five 3-pointers, vs. Miami and vs. Houston.

But Jacque Vaughn has been giving Johnson’s more scoring options beyond his deep shooting, as Ryan Dunleavy writes Friday for the Post.

“We’ve allowed him to shoot the basketball more than he did previously,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said referencing his time in Phoenix. “He’s handling the basketball in the pick-and-roll. The first play out of halftime was for him. He makes the right decision with it. So, we’re really putting more in his hands — and he’s responded.”

He’s also a starter. Last season, he finished third in the Sixth Man of the Year voting but he won’t be eligible this season. He was a starter in 16 of his 17 games in Phoenix, filling in for injured stars, and has been in the starting line-up all 20 games he’s played in Brooklyn.

He understands the changing role.

“In the NBA, you come in and do your job,” Johnson told the Post. “You work on being a well-rounded basketball player, but sometimes your job description on the court might be a little bit different from what you had in high school and college. There’s things that I consistently work on and try to get better at every day. It’s good to be in positions where I can have the ball in my hands, make decisions and make reads, and improve my game.”

Improving his game is also a financial necessity. Johnson, just turned 27, is a restricted free agent this summer. He turned down $72 million over four from Phoenix last summer and the market is expected to be somewhere between that and $80 million this summer. The Nets can match any offer from around the league, but the Brooklyn front office likes to lock up their free agents early, as they did with Nic Claxton, rather than wait for others.

In addition to his talent and output, Johnson is also so close to Mikal Bridges that they call each other twins.

“Me and Cam are coming here like we are twins,” Bridges said. “It’s great to see him shine and hoop. Even the play he got the dunk, we knew that was going to happen. I knew I was going to pitch it and he was going to take off. We’re happy we’re here, embracing every moment and just trying to get a win.”

Johnson also told Dunleavy that the freedom Vaughn has given him and Bridges has been a big positive in their development.

“That’s part of the beauty of the situation,” Johnson said. “These last 20 games have given myself Mikal, Spence and Do just a lot of space to grow. We’re figuring out a lot on the fly, but I think we’ll be better because of it.”

The Nets will need that the rest of the way. The first 20 games of the new-look Nets have indeed been an experiment. As Vaughn has noted, it’s been unique with four new starters coming in at the deadline. But for Johnson, it’s been more than that. It’s an opportunity to show how good he can be ... and how much he deserves in free agency.