Goodwin, Suns Working Together to Tap Potential

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When it comes to Archie Goodwin, it’s important to remember this: Phoenix went out of their way to trade for him.

There’s no higher compliment than that. It’s the same reason Eric Bledsoe eventually landed in Phoenix, and the same manner by which Indiana eventually – and reluctantly – included Miles Plumlee in another offseason deal with the Suns.

Phoenix thinks highly of Goodwin. So much so, in fact, that the team was desperate to find an avenue of escape for his talent.

Problem was, the Suns were playing well. They’ve stayed roughly 10 games above .500 since Christmas, and the team-wide philosophy has remained the same since opening day at training camp: team wins come before personal wants.

“Archie, all year long, he might know the plays better than anybody on the team. When we call a play, he always knew not only what he was doing, but what everyone else was doing.”

— Jeff Hornacek

Yet both the Suns’ front office and coaching staff had openly expressed their eagerness to see Goodwin’s talent unfold.

That’s when both the team and the player have to get creative.

“You’re always emphasizing to the guys that they can learn from sitting there,” Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek said. “You can always go back to what Miles [Plumlee] said [earlier this year]. Last year he didn’t play in Indiana. But he learned. He learned what was going on out there. You can always learn other team’s plays. You can learn a guy’s tendencies. These guys probably haven’t seen these NBA players as much. Even though they’re not playing on the court, there’s still time to learn and grow and try to do things in practice, like Archie going down to the D-League to get some playing experience.”

The NBA’s Developmental League is self-descriptive: it exists to develop talent for the NBA ranks. Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker are in-house proof of its effectiveness. Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough had seen the experience work wonders with other players during his time in Boston, most notably Avery Bradley.

Goodwin’s train of thought was much simpler. In Bakersfield, he was getting a chance to play and, more importantly, apply what he’d been soaking up on the Suns’ bench.

“It helped a lot just getting experience and playing,” he said. “Although it’s not at the level the NBA is, there’s still really good players there and they still challenge you. For me to have the chance to go down there, it really helps a lot. Hopefully I can continue to show what I’ve been working on and get better.”

He excelled and then some, averaging better than 26 point per game with Bakersfield. More importantly, the 19-year-old refined his feel for the NBA’s pace.

Once he returned, Hornacek looked for the opportunity to experiment with Goodwin in the lineup. It came against the Spurs, when Phoenix led by double-digits in the second half. The rookie played well, earning more consistent chances in recent games.

In that span, it's been easy to see how Goodwin’s D-League stint accelerated his progress. He has logged double-digit minutes in three of the last four contests, averaging 11.7 points on 58.3 percent shooting in that span. He’s added 15 total rebounds and three steals as well.

More importantly, Goodwin is making the right plays at the right speed at the right time. Hornacek has been a fan of the rookie’s basketball I.Q. since day one, citing the lack of repetition he needs to learn the Suns’ offense.

“Archie, all year long, he might know the plays better than anybody on the team,” Hornacek said. “When we call a play, he always knew not only what he was doing, but what everyone else was doing.”

High praise from the coach is met by simple motivation from a rookie that doesn’t want to look the part.

“Whenever we’re running a play, I always try to lock in and make sure I know what’s going on,” Goodwin said. “I don’t want to be the odd-ball out and be the guy that doesn’t know what’s going on when the play needs to be run.”

Goodwin has progressed in leaps and bounds in that regard. His growth is easily visible when his recent play is broken down:

  • Against the Spurs last week, Goodwin waited on the weak side of the floor until Ish Smith set a down screen. He promptely used it to cut baseline and caught the ball in the paint. Seeing a defender behind him, he took a power dribble, established better position to prevent his defender from contesting the shot, and banked in the easy bucket.
  • In the same game, Goodwin ran in semi-transition, but Ish Smith saw a better option on the other side of the floor. Instead of giving up as the non-option, Goodwin crashed the boards and slammed home Marcus Morris’ missed three-pointer.
  • Against the Timberwolves four days later, Goodwin started out in the far left corner as Goran Dragic initiated the offense. As P.J. Tucker posted up on the right block, Goodwin flashed toward the suddenly empty area above the restricted area in the key. Tucker passed the ball out to Markieff Morris, who drove down toward the right side of the hoop. Goodwin promptly floated toward the next empty area, this time at the top of the key. Morris recognized the open rookie, who took advantage of the over-rotated defense and drove straight to the hoop for two.
  • With Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe out due to injury, Goodwin was pressed into backup point guard duty at Utah. After running an initial pick-and-roll with Channing Frye, Goodwin passed to Dionte Christmas on the wing. He then shouted and gestured to Christmas that Frye had a mismatch in the post. Christmas drove the ball instead, but recognized the help defense coming and kicked it back out to Goodwin, who nailed a three-pointer from straightaway.

One common theme among those plays: they all came thanks to Goodwin’s work off the ball. That’s a notable development for a guy who, in college, led the SEC in free throw attempts and nearly always had direct control of the offense.

Goodwin, however, has accepted the most basic yet hard-learned lesson of all: the NBA is not college.

“Sometimes as a scorer, you can’t get the ball in your hand every time,” he said. “You have to find ways to score without the ball in your hands, which is cutting, offensive rebounds, getting steals, fast breaks, anything. You don’t always have to have the ball in your hands.”

Such growth is uplifting for everyone involved. Goodwin’s successes build on themselves, giving him more confidence for his next turn on the floor. It gives the coaching staff more reasons and confidence to give him minutes. The front office’s draft-night vision is reinforced.

Perhaps most telling, however, is the reaction from Goodwin’s teammates. When he finished the first quarter at Utah with a spin and slam with one hand, the bench went nuts. After his put-back slam against the Spurs, Markieff Morris doled out the in-your-face, you’re-the-man kudos players live to earn.

“They know how hard a journey this has been for me, especially going to Bakersfield and back,” Goodwin said. “For them to see me out there and [for] me to do good, it just shows how selfless our team is. We just want everyone to do great.”