For the first time in many years, the Phoenix Suns have a promising core of multiple young prospects.
In fact, the team has not kept multiple first-round picks on the roster since Amar'e Stoudemire and Casey Jacobsen in 2002.
In the 2013 draft, the Suns selected Maryland center Alex Len fifth as well as Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin 29th. Both are young, and for now, relatively raw and undeveloped. But both rookies also represent the future of the franchise.
The question is, which one has the most upside?
Technically, most would agree that Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe have the most upside on the Suns roster. However, both already have at least a few years of NBA experience, and have had a chance to break out.
Instead, let's look only at the players one might consider "prospects". That title usually is reserved for rookies and sophomores.
In addition to Len and Goodwin, the Suns have another rookie in undrafted, 27-year-old Dionte Christmas. And their starting center, Miles Plumlee, is a sophomore who played only 55 minutes for the Indiana Pacers last season.
Of these players, only Plumlee has been a major part of the rotation. For now, however, Goodwin seems to have the most potential for success, considering his aggressiveness and offensive prowess.
Look at Goodwin's statistics and you likely won't be impressed. He's averaging 3.5 points and 1.9 rebounds per game while shooting 41 percent from the field and an absolutely dreadful 13 percent from three-point range.
The advanced stats are even worse. Goodwin has actually contributed a negative amount of win shares this season, and his PER is 8.4, well below the league average of approximately 15.
However, there is still hope.
First of all, look at Goodwin's shot chart. At the rim he may not be fantastic, but he certainly is a threat to get there, something that defenses must account for. Goodwin has made 49-of-86 shots in those two zones underneath the rim, a 57 percent conversion rate.
Everywhere else on the court is the real problem for the rookie. He has yet to develop a consistent jump shot from mid-range or the three-point line. Almost every other spot on the chart is red.
Fortunately for Goodwin, shooting is one of the easier parts of a player's game to improve. Look at DeMar DeRozan, a 2014 first-time All-Star. DeRozan actually shot less than 10 percent from deep (5-for-52) in his sophomore season, but since then he has gradually improved each year. This season DeRozan is shooting over 30 percent from three-point range, and is taking almost three threes per game. Still not sharpshooter numbers, but certainly an improvement.
Additionally, head coach Jeff Hornacek and his staff could be the perfect people to develop Goodwin's shot. Not only was Hornacek one of the greatest shooters in NBA history, but look at what he has done for the rest of the Suns roster this season.
Goran Dragic, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris and Ish Smith all have a career-high field-goal percentages this season. Dragic has shown the most drastic improvement, shooting above 50 percent for the first time in his career and improving his three-point accuracy from 32 percent in 2012-13 to 41 percent.
Additionally, players like P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green have become three-point specialists for the first time. Tucker has made 53 threes this season at a career-high 40-percent clip, and Green has made more than 100 threes (143 right now) for the first time ever.
Therefore, it isn't so crazy to think that Goodwin's shot can be fixed. As with all prospects, he just needs time.
For now, Goodwin will continue to excel at attacking the basket.
Take a look at his highlights against the Sacramento Kings from earlier in the season.
Goodwin scored 16 points, and except for one corner three, all of his field-goals came on breakaway dunks and layups as well as drives to the rim. He plays the passing lanes, always looking for a steal. Coupled with his speed and athleticism, that could make him a fantastic transition weapon.
We see the same thing in a more-recent 16-point performance against the Jazz. Again, Goodwin focuses on getting to the rim any way he can. The highlights for that game are below.
Goodwin may be only 6'5", but he has the physical attributes to play either wing position effectively. Before the draft, he was listed as having almost a 6'10" wingspan. That length allows him to rack up both steals and blocks on the defensive end, something that we're seeing in the stat sheet. This season, Goodwin is averaging an impressive 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks per 36 minutes.
And at only 19, he could potentially continue to grow.
Also, consider the fact that Goodwin still weighs less than 200 pounds and does not yet possess the strength required to dominate opposing guards. According to this list of 2013 draft results, Goodwin and Ben McLemore were the two lightest of the 13 shooting guards drafted.
As he continues to build strength, his offensive game will become even more potent and he will convert a higher percentage of shots at the rim. Add a consistent jump shot and he could be an elite offensive weapon.
The question is, what is Goodwin's future with the Phoenix Suns? I believe that the rookie has the potential to become a solid starter, and with a bit of luck, perhaps even a reserve All-Star.
For now, Dragic and Bledsoe clearly lead the backcourt. With Bledsoe soon to come back from a knee injury, Green returns to the bench as a sixth man.
So how much can Goodwin really develop with all of these competing players at the guard positions? Could he potentially start at small forward in a few years? As Dragic gets older, might he move to the bench while the Suns display an athletic backcourt of Bledsoe and Goodwin?
Or, is Goodwin's ceiling with this team as a sixth man? Might he never receive an opportunity to start as long as Bledsoe and Dragic continue to play together?
The answers to these questions will be discovered in a few years. For now, Goodwin will continue to receive a few minutes of playing time each game, especially while Eric Bledsoe and Leandro Barbosa are both out. But, do not expect him to be a vital part of the rotation.
Goodwin spent a few games earlier in the year with the Suns' D-League affiliate, the Bakersfield Jam. While some consider a D-League assignment to be a poor sign for a rookie's future, the Suns took the right approach with Goodwin.
If he cannot contribute that much to a playoff roster, then he must continue to play minutes with whatever team is available. The Suns did not give up on Goodwin—they simply want to develop him as quickly as possible.
But it will take time. Rookies, especially those taken 29th in the draft, rarely make an immediate impact. Suns fans must be patient with both Goodwin and Len.
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