PHOENIX – The last time Phoenix Suns general manager drafted a Kentucky guard who left school too early and without a jump shot, it turned out pretty well. Phoenix picked Rajon Rondo 21st overall in 2006 for McDonough’s Celtics, and it didn’t take long for the lanky, driven point guard to help Boston to an NBA title.
History repeated itself on Thursday. This time, McDonough was working for the Suns.
The general manager took 18-year-old Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin in the 2013 NBA Draft, and McDonough can only hope it turns out so well this time around. Overshadowed by the Suns failing to get a franchise-changing perimeter scorer at the top of the draft was the fact that, well, they think they got one anyway.
Phoenix made a seemingly odd move to swap their 30th pick for the 29th — which became Goodwin — and Malcolm Lee’s contract worth just more than $800,000. Seemingly inconsequential, the trade ensured the Suns would get Goodwin, a hot commodity toward the end of the first round, McDonough said.
“We had Archie rated significantly higher than where he got picked, and there was a significant dropoff between him and the next player that was on our list,” McDonough said. “We didn’t want to mess around and run the risk he wouldn’t be there. We tried to get up higher than we did.
“And then right after we got him,” McDonough added, “it was funny. My phone starting blowing up – a lot of calls and texts from other teams around the league saying, ‘Darn it, that was our guy. We were trying to get a pick, we were right behind you.’”
The Suns wanted Goodwin just as much as Goodwin wanted them.
“This is a team I wanted to play for,” Goodwin said Friday, when the Suns introduced him. “I feel really comfortable here.”
Two workouts with the Suns and a dinner with McDonough sold the franchise on the young guard’s upside. Goodwin’s maturity came across in that dinner, and so did the wish to play in Phoenix.
Goodwin averaged 14.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game for John Calipari’s team last season despite having a raw skillset. The upside that could make him a future star in the NBA comes in part because of his athleticism and also because of his instincts that made him relatively successful for lacking a jump shot. But it’s Goodwin’s drive to get better and his aggression that made him one of the best penetrating rim-attackers in NCAA hoops last year.
“I will say right now my strength will really be attacking the ball, attacking the rim and making plays for myself and others, and being aggressive and confident,” said Goodwin, who took 7.9 free throws per 40 minutes pace-adjusted, which ranked fourth among Draft Express’ top shooting guard prospects in the draft. “My competitive edge that I have really sets me apart.”
Is he a point guard?
Goodwin calls himself a point guard but his inexperience makes him a longshot to be that right away. Considering his 6-foot-5 frame, 6-foot-10 wingspan and his affinity for attacking the rim in transition and off pick-and-rolls (14.7 percent of his offense was from the pick-and-roll and he shot 51 percent in those situations), Goodwin can immediately play shooting guard on both ends of the floor. But is he a point guard?
Maybe down the road. He certainly has the natural instincts and willingness to be a creator for others.
“I feel like I have the athletic tools to really set my apart from guys,” Goodwin said when asked why he can play point guard. “I’m 6’5, I have a 6’10 wingspan. A lot of point guards in the league don’t have that. I can use that to my strengths.”
ESPN Stats and Info writer Ryan Feldman compared Goodwin to two other scoring point guards in Tyreke Evans and Russell Westbrook, and the similarities make sense. But Evans was moved out of the point guard position after a few years in the NBA, and Westbrook has fought the perception that he’s too far away from the traditional mold of a point.
For Goodwin, the inability to shoot well consistently is another comparison to Rondo. Hornacek said after Goodwin’s public workout in Phoenix that he shot the ball extremely well. And the Suns’ new coach is confident Goodwin has the work ethic to take tools given to him and apply them individually. The hardest part, Hornacek said, is applying techniques at game speed.
“Archie has shown us he’s going to work hard and we can give him those drills and he’ll go through them hard,” Hornacek said. “That’ll make him better. The upside for Archie is he’s 18 years old.”
So in the near future, Goodwin will first have to prove he’s worthy of playing right away — no matter at which position. If he can do that, there’s no doubt he can be eased into a point guard role alongside Goran Dragic or Kendall Marshall, just as Dragic spent time alongside Steve Nash as a youngster.
Goodwin is just happy to be in the NBA.
“I have a lot of room to grow,” he said. “I’m only 18. I can get a lot stronger, I can a lot more consistent in shooting and get my dribbling better and, you know, get a better IQ for the game.”
“Just to here my name called in general was a relief.”