Drew Gooden : : Gooden Ready
By Brett Ballantini | Posted April 25, 2008
For a man who’s been a superstar at every level he’s played, the NBA sure has proven to be strange for one Andrew Melvin Gooden.
He starred as a prep player in California, leading El Cerrito High to the 1999 Division III Championship game, which his Gauchos lost to DeShawn Stevenson (now of the Washington Wizards), 99-91.
The Memphis Grizzlies selected Gooden with the fourth overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft.
(Ray Amati/NBAE/Getty Images)
The Memphis Grizzlies then grabbed him with the fourth overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, and his 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds that season earned him a placement on the league’s All-Rookie First Team—as a member of the Orlando Magic.
“I’ve had a few addresses in the NBA, that’s for sure,” Gooden says, adding with a laugh, “but as long as there’s at least one team out there that wants me …”
The amount of acclaim given Drew Gooden as an amateur is almost inversely proportional to the amount of confusion that surrounds his professional days. Yes, a mere 51 games into his rookie year he was traded to Orlando for small forward Mike Miller. It was a rare second-guess by one of the NBA’s smartest team executives, the legendary Jerry West. In the end, West’s decision to deal Gooden didn’t pan out well for the Grizzlies: with just a slight uptick in playing time, Gooden took off the training wheels and upped his stats to a very respectable 13.6 points and 8.4 rebounds during the stretch run of the 2002.03 season.
Also on the plus side for Gooden, the trade would eventually reunite the 6’10” forward with his old AAU teammate and high school rival, DeShawn Stevenson. But that season, the 21-win Magic were severely outsized, with Gooden playing an awkward power forward alongside the smaller Juwan Howard at center. Gooden never seemed to find his stride as a sophomore, averaging 11.6 points and 6.5 rebounds, and was eventually traded to Cleveland after the season.
Three teams in three years isn’t a resume line many players want to type, but the move to the Cavaliers proved to be a godsend for Gooden, who by starting alongside superstar LeBron James became an instant member of an NBA Finals contender.
“That’s a long way from 21 wins,” Gooden says, with another laugh. “Going to Cleveland was the break I needed.”
Frankly, Gooden was acquired by the Cavaliers in a state of panic. Their previous prized power forward, Carlos Boozer, had bolted town for a rich long-term deal with the Utah Jazz. Considering Boozer was a breakout star from Gooden’s rookie class, the pressure on Gooden to replace him was enormous.
But replace Boozer he did. Certainly, Boozer has become a superstar in Utah, but he’s also proven a little brittle, missing more than a third of Utah’s games due to a number of injuries since his arrival. Gooden, however, blossomed into a player quite the opposite: an every day lunch-pailer whose numbers rarely wowed, but who always showed up to punch the clock.
Missing a mere five games in his three full seasons in Cleveland, Gooden proved to be a rock for franchise center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The duo played the majority of frontcourt minutes together over the past three years and never started less than 78 games alongside one another, up until this most recent trade to Chicago.
“I can’t tell you how important Drew was to our team, and to me personally,” Ilgauskas says. “Whenever we needed an energy burst, whenever we needed hustle, it was Drew who provided it. Obviously, LeBron is our star, but without Drew’s efforts, we’re not a 50-win team, and we’re certainly not a Finals team.”
Defending the paint has always been a strong suit of Gooden’s game.
(D. Lippitt/NBAE/Getty Images)
Gooden’s blue-collar game was never more apparent than in Cleveland. Though never attaining true starters minutes (say, 36 per game), Gooden regularly posted double-doubles. (Projected to 36 minutes, in fact, Gooden averaged a double-double in points and rebounds every season of his Cleveland tenure.)
Another aspect of Gooden’s game—and that of the feisty Cavs as a whole—is in hustle points. For a power forward, hustle can best be determined with one stat: offensive rebounds. In both 2005.06 and 2006.07, Gooden was in the league’s top 10 in offensive rebounds—and this from a player who saw less than 30 minutes per game. More impressively, in the past two years, he has finished third in the NBA in offensive rebound percentage, which is the percentage of offensive rebounds corralled while on the floor. In other words, if there’s a missed shot to collect, this man usually gets it.
“Offensive rebounds puts food on my the table,” Gooden says with a grin. “Not everyone gets paid to score, or paid to pass. I’ve learned to maximize my time on the floor, and the best way to do that is by always giving maximum effort.”
It was telling that when Gooden, Larry Hughes, Cedric Simmons, and Shannon Brown first arrived in Chicago prior to (but inactive for) the February 22 game vs. the Denver Nuggets, only Gooden was in his game warm-ups, looking ready to sprint on the floor, as he sat and talked with reporters.
Break a sweat upon arrival? Hey, Drew Gooden breaks a sweat getting out of bed every day.
That was readily apparent a few days later, in Chicago’s February 27, 113-107 victory over the Indiana Pacers, a game in which both of the Bulls’ new acquisitions, Gooden and Larry Hughes, starred. Hughes, as usual, had some glistening offensive moves, netting 29 points in the game. But it was Gooden who astounded, grabbing 15 rebounds—eight on the offensive end—in a mere 25 minutes of action.
It’s that lust for hustle that has won him fans throughout the league, and he remains a popular player wherever he suits up, both home or away. Unsurprisingly, when the Bulls made their first appearance in Cleveland back on March 2, with Gooden now dressing in the red-and-black of the enemy, he was loudly cheered by the Cavalier faithful.
“Oh, I loved the fans in Cleveland,” Gooden says. “I guess there’s a part of me that will always consider Cleveland home. That’s really where I got my legs as a pro.”
Gooden’s infectious hustle and good spirit couldn’t remain repressed in his new threads, either. After a few games of bringing him off of the bench while starting the young guns, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah, in the frontcourt, interim Bulls head coach Jim Boylan inserted Gooden into the starting lineup at power forward in Cleveland and doesn’t plan to ever look back.
“Drew is a physical presence around the basket,” Boylan says. “Going forward, we need that at the start of games. There’s leadership of all kinds in this game, and the leadership Drew gives us is a willingness to leave it all out on the floor, every time he’s on the floor. That’s crucial for our team down the stretch.”
Gooden is a player Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson has long coveted. With every prior year’s trading deadline, another rumor surfaced where Gooden was eventually going to land in a Bulls uniform. But this time, without having to surrender any of his young building blocks, Paxson was able to pull it off—and he doesn’t plan on parting ways with him anytime soon.
In three years at Kansas, Gooden became only the second player in school history to record 1,500 points, 900 rebounds, 100 blocks and 100 steals.
(Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
“Just look at how easily he’s integrated himself into the team,” adds team captain, Kirk Hinrich, who played alongside Gooden for three years at Kansas. “He always hustles, he rebounds, he shoots, he does all that great stuff on the floor.”
Another flash from Gooden’s past is equally excited to support the notion that the sixth-year pro from KU will be a difference-maker for the Bulls—none other than University of North Carolina’s Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams, who mentored both Hinrich and Gooden while the three were at Kansas.
“Drew is a terrific kid, and I’m sure the people of Chicago already know how tough a competitor he is from facing him all these years,” Williams says. “That’s one thing that always struck me about Drew and Kirk—they always play the game the right way, and when something kept them from doing that, they were willing to put in the extra work to make sure it never happen again. I can’t see how having players like that won’t lead to success for the Bulls.”
Gooden has taken a brief step away from last year’s NBA Finals spotlight in moving westward to the Windy City. But with the trade, he brings his personal playbook, a countless collection of hustle moves that can’t help but rub-off on some of his younger, more impressionable teammates.
“One thing I learned in Cleveland was about competing,” Gooden says. “You can run all the plays you want, say all the things you want, but in the end it’s about fighting. That’s what helped us get to the Finals last year. That’s the kind of experience I’m bringing to the Bulls.”
Gooden has been seeing the Bulls at least four times a year throughout his career, so he’s no stranger to the style of play, the city, its fans—or its history.
“I know a lot about the Bulls,” he says. “When I was a kid, I used to dream about playing next to Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Bill Cartwright.”
Those guys might be gone, but Gooden likes what he sees from the latest breed of bovines, in spite of the unexpected speed bump that’s slowed the club’s climb in 2007.08. “We’re still a young team on the rise, with a ton of potential. We’ve got a lot of upside, a lot of young players who are good. I’m proud to be one of the guys who can help rebuild the Bulls dynasty.”
“This is a guy who has proven himself at every level,” Bulls shooting guard Ben Gordon says about his new teammate. “We have a lot of players in our locker room who can play. But where Drew‘s different, he’s been to the Finals, and was a major contributor to winning basketball for years in Cleveland. I see nothing but good things he brings our team.”
“You hate to lose guys you’ve come to know and respect, but you have to be excited to bring in a guy like Drew Gooden,” says small forward Luol Deng. “For whatever reason, we haven’t had the right mix this year, but Drew’s the kind of player you have to feel good about adding to your club. His game is about effort, and that’s one thing that no team can have enough of.”