With the Phoenix Suns staying in the playoff race far longer than many national observers assumed they would, the recent comments from Archie Goodwin about his dissatisfaction with his lack of playing time slipped under the radar. The No. 28 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Goodwin is clearly itching to get on the floor after spending most of the last two seasons waiting his turn behind Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Gerald Green. He has played in only 13 games this season and has spent a lot of time with the Suns affiliate in the D-League.
The good news for Phoenix fans is that Goodwin has looked impressive when given the chance to get on the floor. In six games with the Bakersfield Jam, he is averaging 19.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.5 steals on 44% shooting. The problem for Goodwin is that there are just no minutes available for him with the Suns, no matter how well he plays in the D-League. There are more than a few parallels to Goodwin’s situation in Phoenix and Eric Bledsoe’s with the Los Angeles Clippers, except he’s stuck behind a bigger logjam.
If Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry are the Splash Brothers, the two-headed PG monster in Phoenix are the Slash Brothers. Bledsoe just signed a $70 million extension in the offseason and Dragic is expected to command a max deal this summer. They both average between 33-34 minutes a game and could easily play more.
If there has been a problem in Phoenix this season, it has been finding minutes behind Bledsoe and Dragic for Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green, two guys who could be in the running for Sixth Man of the Year if they weren’t stealing shots stats from each other. Thomas, who just signed a four-year $27 million contract with the Suns, is one of the deadliest bench scorers in the league and has had to adjust to playing off the ball in Phoenix. Green is as indefensible a player as there is in the NBA. They are both averaging between 21-25 minutes a game and could easily play more.
The easiest way for Jeff Hornacek to resolve the minutes crunch in the backcourt would be to play more 3-guard line-ups. The problem is that he has two veterans entrenched at the SF position - PJ Tucker and Marcus Morris - who need minutes too. As is, he can’t find any minutes for TJ Warren, an extremely talented combo forward who the Suns took at No. 14 in this year’s draft. Warren is putting up astronomical numbers in the D-League - 26.6 points and 6.4 rebounds a game on 55.1% shooting.
If Phoenix makes the playoffs with a young team, they aren’t going to want to break them up. Even if they don’t, they aren’t going to commit to anything resembling a rebuilding effort. Going into next season, they will have a difficult enough time clearing out minutes for Warren, whom they invested a lottery pick in, much less Goodwin. That doesn’t even get into other first-round picks like Reggie Bullock and Tyler Ennis as well as Bogdan Bogdanovic, a draft-and-stash player in Europe who plays the same position as Goodwin.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When Goodwin landed in Phoenix two seasons ago, it seemed like the perfect situation. With a new GM and head coach in place, the Suns were cleaning out all the deadwood from the previous administration. They were widely expected to be Philadelphia East, a hopeless team with nothing but time to develop a young guy with potential.
Like most young guys taken in the latter half of the first round, Goodwin was nowhere near ready to play a big role on a good team in the NBA. He was the best perimeter player at Kentucky in his only season there, averaging 14.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists on 44% shooting, but it was by far the worst team that John Calipari has had in Lextington - they famously missed the NCAA Tournament and lost in the first round of the NIT to Robert Morris.
There was plenty of talent in Goodwin’s recruiting class, which also featured Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress. The problem was that Noel tore his ACL, Cauley-Stein and Poythress were very raw on offense and no one on their roster could shoot 3’s. At the end of the season, Noel and Goodwin elected to go pro while Cauley-Stein and Poythress stayed in school, even though Cal had the “greatest recruiting class of all-time” coming in the following season. It was widely assumed at the time that Goodwin was essentially forced out to make room for the Harrison Twins.
Two years later, that speculation seems a little absurd. The Harrisons have the size to play in the NBA but not the athleticism and they are barely holding on to their starting spots as sophomores with Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker breathing down their neck. Andrew and Aaron are currently projected as late second round picks by DraftExpress. If Goodwin had stayed in school for three seasons, he would have been the No. 1 option in the Kentucky offense and one of the front-runners for the Wooden Award.
At 6’5 190 with a 6’10 wingspan, Goodwin is an elite athlete with a lightning-quick first step and prototypical size for the SG position. From a physical standpoint, there are very few players who can stay in front of him when he’s on offense and very few players whom he can’t stay in front of when he’s on defense. If he could play with some of the driving lanes that Karl Towns creates at PF, he would be living at the rim against SEC defenses. Translate his statistics from the D-League to Kentucky and imagine how much publicity he would be getting.
Even though Goodwin is already a 2nd year player in the NBA, he is still impossibly young. He’s a 20 year old born in August 1994 - he won’t turn 21 until right before his third season in the league, which would have been his fourth season at Kentucky. Here’s how he stacks up age-wise against some of the top SG’s in this year’s draft:
Coming out of college, the big knocks on Goodwin were that he wasn’t a great passer or shooter. As a freshmen, he shot only 26% from 3 and averaged more turnovers (3.1) than assists (2.7). The three-point shooting has improved in the D-League (17-49 in two seasons) but the passing has not. At this point, Goodwin would probably be best as a slasher/defensive player off the bench who tries to speed up the tempo of the game and get out in transition, where his athleticism makes him almost impossible to stop.
Most importantly of all, Goodwin needs to be somewhere where he can play through his mistakes. A mistake-prone young player with tremendous upside potential isn’t a great fit on a team trying to make the playoffs in one of the most difficult conferences in the history of the NBA. The Suns can talk a big game about valuing his potential, but the roster crunch means he could end up being a very intriguing buy-low candidate for another team.
Goodwin is such a phenomenal athlete that he will eventually get a chance in the NBA, even if it isn’t with the Suns. The question is whether the two years he is spending on the bench were really the ideal place for him to grow as a player. There are no guarantees in this life either way. One of his classmates that stayed in school (Cauley-Stein) has developed into a very well-rounded player who could go in the Top 5. The other (Poythress) just tore his ACL and may never even get a chance at the next level. At the very least, Goodwin has already put $2.1 million in the bank and you can never be mad at that.
Here’s the thing though. Devin Booker, the freshman whom Goodwin would have started over had he stayed in school, is currently projected to be the No. 14 pick in the 2015 draft, which comes with a salary of $1.68 million. Cauley-Stein, who DraftExpress projects to go at No. 6, would have a $2.85 million salary as a rookie at that spot.
These days, the road to the NBA is all about “hurry up and wait.” Guys are rushing as fast as they can just so stand in line once they get there.