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Warriors, Cam Johnson

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The Warriors are salivating for Cam Johnson, but he will come with a steep price to pay

The Warriors are salivating for Cam Johnson, but he will come with a steep price to pay

The Golden State Warriors are fresh out of making a deal for the 41st pick with the Atlanta Hawks, as general manager Bob Myers used his connection with his former understudy Travis Schlenk to make the deal.

Yet the real NBA Draft gem the title runners-up are aiming at is North Carolina’s Cameron Johnson, arguably the best pure shooter available in this year’s draft.

The Warriors love Johnson’s qualities as a player, but so do a lot of other teams.

Lanky in body, but a strong shooter with plenty of upside due to his size and frame (6-foot-9, 205 pounds), Johnson can fill in the void for the unavoidable long-term absence of Klay Thompson (torn ACL) and Kevin Durant (torn Achilles).

Thompson is likely to return to the Warriors on a max contract, but will miss at the very least eight months recovering from his injury, putting his earliest return until after the All-Star break.

Meanwhile Durant could opt to re-sign with Golden State or sign a max deal elsewhere, but regardless of that decision, the Warriors will likely be without his talents for the entire season, as he recovers from a crucial injury that could impact the rest of his career.

The promise:

Johnson is well-seasoned in the college game, perhaps the first senior to be picked in this year’s draft. He averaged a strong 16.9 points per game on a studly 50.6% from the floor and a staggering 45.7% from deep — easily the best mark among all prospects.

The long-striding Johnson looks effortless shooting the ball, able to spot up and let it fly or rise up over his defender and uncork a rainbow jumper through the net.

While his body will need some work to make a reliable small forward at the next level, all the tools are there to bulk him up another 15 or 20 pounds to make him an everyday contributor at both ends of the floor.

Johnson also shot above 80% from the line in all four years at North Carolina, making him a formidable asset for a team that will direly miss the shooting Thompson and Durant provided these last three seasons.

The problem:

Cam Johnson is quickly going up draft boards at an alarming rate, as teams have quickly realized that he’s a promising player with elite-level shooting skills — primarily what NBA teams will value over the course of the years, since it’s one of the few skills that has proven to age well.

Johnson was previously slotted to be the one of the first players snatched in the second round, but he’s quickly being considered at the bottom of the first, as teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, and the Oklahoma City Thunder have expressed interest in drafting him.

Elite shooters often get picked at some point after the middle of the first round — take for instance Maryland’s Kevin Huerter, who was selected 19th overall by the Atlanta Hawks last year.

The Warriors have the 28th, 41st and 58th pick, which makes for a tough proposition.

Johnson could potentially go as high as No. 21 to the Thunder, a team in dire need of shooting after coming out short for that very reason in these past few trips to the postseason.

To snatch him in time, the Warriors would need to trade some of their draft assets in order to get him before another team beats them to the punch.

The conundrum:

One reason why Cam Johnson hasn’t gotten more eyes is his medical examinations. Johnson missed games in his junior season with a hip injury and teams have grown concerned that it could flare up in the future.

Judging by the career-derailing issues a player like Isaiah Thomas has had due to hip surgery, a few franchises have chosen to steer clear of Johnson to avoid dealing with this gamble.

Trading potentially two of their draft picks to move up the board could prove costly for the Warriors, who made the earlier move with Atlanta thinking of filling roster spots with rookie-scale contracts, which could be at the very least $600,000 cheaper than the most-affordable minimum contract, now that they’re elbows deep in the luxury tax.

Trading up is always a gamble, and there is no guarantee that Johnson will be available unless Golden State trades high enough to get him. The higher the pick, the more costly the exchange can be.

Five teams, including the Warriors, have made efforts to move up the board between picks 20-23, according to Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated. If successful, the Warriors could have a real gem in their hands and a plug-and-play starter to help navigate the rough waters that await next season.