Pressure’s On For Archie Goodwin

Apr 10, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Archie Goodwin (20) shoots the ball over New Orleans Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans (1) during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans won 90-75. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 10, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Archie Goodwin (20) shoots the ball over New Orleans Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans (1) during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans won 90-75. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

With the arrival of No. 13 draft pick Devin Booker, the Phoenix Suns may have a new most likable player. After a season of regression, off-court drama and disappointment, even the individual strides made by Eric Bledsoe, Alex Len, Morris twins and rookie T.J. Warren didn’t overshadow the fact that this team is hoping to recapture that 2013-14 magic and rebound in 2015-16.

This franchise’s demise may have been overblown, but the high opinion of Booker reflects the perception of this team’s current roster remains; Booker’s intelligence, positive attitude and the simple fact that he seems like he has a good head on his shoulders stand out a lot more than they normally would for a late lottery pick.

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  • That problem is something the Suns will try to address by targeting the high profile free agents hitting the market this summer, including LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love. But if Phoenix once again strikes out in free agency, re-signing Brandon Knight might be as good as it gets for the Suns, who will once again be lacking a superstar.

    Odds are the roster will look remarkably similar next season, with young players trying to take the next step forward as they take on new or expanded roles. Even with the failed three point guard experiment and an unhappy locker room, the Suns still held on to the eighth seed in the loaded Western Conference for a large chunk of the season in 2014-15.

    Adding a spot-up shooting threat to the league’s worst three-point shooting team since the All-Star break will be a huge help, and both general manager Ryan McDonough and Jeff Hornacek seem convinced the 18-year-old Booker might be able to crack the rotation as a rookie.

    The question is, if the latest Kentucky addition to Phoenix’s backcourt does earn rotation minutes as a first-year player, where does that leave Archie Goodwin?

    At 20 years old, Goodwin has spent his first two years in the league relatively unused. Last season he saw more minutes at the end of the season when the Suns’ playoff hopes had all but flatlined. He averaged 5.6 points and 1.8 rebounds in 13 minutes per game while shooting 39.3 percent from the floor and 29.3 percent from three-point range.

    Despite his limited playing time, the flashes of potential were tantalizing. Exhibit A:

    Exhibit B:

    It wasn’t just a couple of jaw-dropping dunks, though. Over the course of an 82-game season, every NBA athlete worth his salt will walk away with one or two monster dunk highlights.

    But in a game against the Dallas Mavericks on Mar. 22, Goodwin showcased the kind of clutch playmaking the Suns would love to see from him in the future. He only played 11 minutes and finished with just five points, but in a must-win home game, Goodwin helped keep the team’s playoff hopes alive.

    With the Suns trailing by one with just over three and a half minutes to play, Goodwin spun into the paint and lofted a beautiful teardrop layup over Tyson Chandler to reclaim the lead for Phoenix.

    With the game tied at 88 a few possessions later, Goodwin knocked down a clutch three-pointer to give the Suns a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way. After spending so much time on the bench in his first two years in the league, the outburst of emotion was understandable.

    This was Goodwin’s moment — a mini breakthrough and a sign of things to come after biding his time and waiting for his opportunity.

    Then again, painting Goodwin as a picture of patience isn’t entirely accurate either. It was only a few months prior that he had spoken his mind about his lack of playing time.

    “Of course it is going to be frustrating for me, because I am a competitor,” Goodwin told Sporting News. “I have enough confidence in myself to believe I can play right now. A lot of guys, once they get here, they sort of feel like, ‘Well, it’s OK, I will get my opportunity eventually.’ That’s not me. I feel like I could be playing right now. In that sense, it is very frustrating.”

    After the Suns traded for Reggie Bullock, a visibly frustrated Goodwin went as far as saying, “I don’t know what they’re doing,” in reference to the front office.

    You have to wonder what this outspoken and young talent thinks of the acquisition of yet another player who will threaten to steal his minutes, even if that player is a fellow Wildcat alum.

    “He’s a guy that if you put him on the court today or tomorrow as an 18-year-old guy, teams would respect him and respect his shot,” McDonough said of Booker at his introductory press conference. “We kind of hope they’d leave him open for jump shots and we’d certainly take that, but even the threat of him or a player like him opens up the court for Eric and Brandon and those guys to drive.

    “So that’ll be kind of his immediate role, his immediate value, but one of the things that really impressed us in the workout process is there’s a whole lot more to his game than making spot-up shots. His athleticism stood out, his potential, his versatility off the dribble and defensively was certainly a lot better than I think we thought going into the process.”

    McDonough cited the league-wide trend centered on three-point shooting in reference to Booker’s value as well. The Golden State Warriors won the title this year with a jump shooting team, and the four conference finalists ranked in the top five in three-point attempts per game. The value of being effective from downtown is at a premium now, which is why the Suns felt the need to target shooters in the 2015 NBA Draft.

    Booker’s ability to spread the floor and open up lanes for penetration could put him ahead of Goodwin in the rotation. His humble disposition and his outright acknowledgement of the areas of his game that need improvement means he’s in no rush — even with all his experience in a sixth man role at Kentucky that got him used to coming off the bench and putting up points in a hurry.

    “I think it can, but overall I just want to come in and learn first,” Booker said of that experience helping him at the next level. “Learn and then implement my own playing style. I’m always going to work hard, I always know I’m going to have to work on something, but at the end of the day you have to keep working and that’s what I have to do.”

    Booker’s motivation to round out his game should be encouraging to Suns fans, but it’s also true that he might find consistent rookie minutes simply for his spot-up shooting. Goodwin, on the other hand, needs a lot of work with his perimeter shot still, so even though he’s got the athleticism and upside to warrant minutes, there’s a chance Goodwin finds himself in a familiar situation in 2015-16: waiting for his time to come on the wrong end of the rotation.

    Heading into training camp in a few months, all bets will be off. No one on this roster is safe as the Suns head into free agency, but if everyone is back next season, Goodwin will have his work cut out for him to establish his case for playing time despite all the roster’s positional overlap.

    “Hey, duke it out,” Hornacek said. “Whoever goes out there and plays the best, that’s what Summer League is for, that’s what training camp is for, to see if there’s someone who wants to separate themselves and earn those minutes.”

    It’s far too early to say this is a do-or-die season for Goodwin. He’s still extremely young, he played a little bit of the backup point guard position last season and there are still too many unknown variables in this equation. But given how quickly Goodwin voiced his discontent last year, another season of the same probably won’t fly for a third-year player hoping to finally break through.

    Next: 5 Reasons Devin Booker Was The Right Pick For The Suns

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