Lance Stephenson's career path is one Phoenix Suns' Archie Goodwin should emulate

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns Archie Goodwin played little as a rookie. Can an NBA player still become a major force at their position if they haven't already shown it as a rookie?

Impatient fans want to see progress from every player on the team. Fast progress. Impatient coaches want the same, as do the players themselves.

But some players require a little bit more patience, and Phoenix Suns shooting guard Archie Goodwin is one such player. The kid was just 19 years old his entire rookie season last year - the second youngest player overall in the NBA (behind the Greek freak in Milwaukee). He is plenty tall for his position (6'5") and long (6'10" wingspan) but is still wafer thin at a generously-listed 190 pounds.Archie-goodwin-SL-rendering

Even entering his second season, Archie will still just be 20 years old. Only a dozen players drafted THIS year are younger than Archie, and one of them (by only a week) is his teammate, Tyler Ennis. T.J. Warren is nearly a year older. He will be 21 next week. Get out the cane, T.J. Alex Len is older than all of them, turning 21 last month already.

So, let's give this kid some slack. He's not the first kid to come into the NBA needing seasoning to before blossoming into a star.

Goodwin dunk gif 2

An extreme example of youth being young is Kobe Bryant, who only played only 15 minutes per game as an 18-year old rookie. But that's where the comparisons end. Archie is no Kobe.

Is there a modern-day example?

How about Lance Stephenson.

Born Ready...for more seasoning

Stephenson played in only 12 games as a 20 year old rookie after one up-and-down season in college. At Cincinnati, he was a ball-dominant combo guard who, at 6'5", was learning to become a shooting guard in the NBA.

While Stephenson was plagued with maturity issues off the court, he also displayed a lot of immaturity on the court both in college and in the pros, and was stuck between positions (as Kellan calls it, a 0 guard).

Where I want to make the comparison between Stephenson and Goodwin is in their career trajectories. Stephenson is a great talent, but he barely played in his first two seasons as he backed up Danny Granger and draft mate Paul George. Goodwin is losing playing time to Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Gerald Green.

Lance Stephenson's career trajectory

Stephenson-Goodwin

Stephenson finally got his chance at big minutes when Granger got hurt, but still would not have played unless he'd developed his all-around game. When he entered the league, he couldn't shoot and only made 3 three-pointers in his first two NBA seasons (two of those in the last game of his second year). He could have earned more than 10 minutes a game in his rookie and sophomore seasons if he'd been better prepared for the NBA regardless of who was ahead of him on the depth chart.

Who knows how or when Goodwin will get his chance, but sometime in the next year or two that chance will present itself.

Different skillsets

The skill sets of Stephenson and the Suns' Goodwin are dissimilar in many respects. Lance is very thick, and a better passer and rebounder, while Goodwin is better at scoring near the basket.

But there are a lot of career parallels between them, and that's what this article is all about. Both played combo guard in college and used their best skill to absorb contact and score at the basket (for Stephenson his strength, for Goodwin his quickness). Both have good defensive potential. Neither could shoot straight from distance.

Both came out of college with some maturity issues, but with a high ceiling as an NBA player.

Rookie season

Stephenson was 20 as a rookie, while Goodwin was 19. Neither played much (each averaging about 10 minutes per game) while their team fought to make the playoffs. Archie actually played a lot more games than Lance (52 to 12), but neither was a key contributor.

Stephenson showcased some positive play offensively, but had very little success with defensive matters, especially being billed [as a defensive guy], and playing as a point guard.

As the season moved along, murmurs began to arise about whether Stephenson would ever play for the Pacers, and whether his time on the bench would be more valuable than a D-League stint with the Mad Ants. The Pacers believed him being with the team would be a better opportunity to monitor his growth on and off the floor.

--SB Nation's IndyCornrows.com, rookie year review

Second season

Lance's second season was much like Archie's first. He barely played 10 minutes a game, though this time he was a rotational fixture, if only at 10 minutes a game, in the first half of the season. He didn't get more time because he couldn't be trusted to make the right play or take the right shot.

Still, the team loved his potential and expected him to join the regular rotation in his third season.

With two seasons of NBA schooling behind him, Stephenson now stands poised to make the jump into a full-time slot in the rotation-if he continues to progress in the summer.

In other words, Born Ready is almost ready.

--Pacers.com - Second year review

Looking at Stephenson's career path it looks like his second season was much more closely aligned with Goodwin's rookie campaign. Even Stephenson's final game of that season was his best.

[Stephenson] was a fixture in the first half of the season playing in 32 of the first 35 games but with fell out of the picture, making just 10 appearances in the final 31.

But that final appearance left a lasting impression.

With the third seed clinched and Danny Granger and Leandro Barbosa given the night off to nurse injuries, Stephenson started for the first time and racked up 22 points on 10 of 15 shooting, playing 35 minutes without a turnover.

It was a performance made even more remarkable by the fact he shot 2 of 4 from the 3-point line, doubling his career output. Stephenson had been 2 of 31 in his first 53 games.

He has the ability to get inside the defense and create a shot or a play seemingly at will. As a passer, his vision and creativity is unmatched on the roster but his judgment needs refinement. Defensively, he has come a long way but has a ways to travel before achieving true soundness within the system.

--Pacers.com second year review

Goodwin played 52 games as a rookie, with his best one coming last - in the finale against Sacramento. And here's Goodwin's final game of his rookie season.

Yet another similarity between Goodwin's rookie season and Stephenson's second year: Leandro Barbosa. The Brazilian Blur. Both lost their rotation spot midseason to the kid from Brazil.

Again, other than the shooting problems and the lack of maturity on the court, their skill sets are not that similar. Stephenson is an incredibly gifted passer and solid rebounder while Goodwin is not. Stephenson is thick like Tucker, while Goodwin is wiry.

But Goodwin offers the ideal on-and-off-court personality (those charges were dropped this summer, so don't go there), never made a terrible offensive play when he was on the court, is more gifted around the rim and has a lot more athleticism than Stephenson possesses.

Check out this interview and montage of Archie's rookie season by NBA.com. This video gives you great insight into Archie the person, the player and the worker.

Born Ready, finally

"He has to develop his 3-point shooting," [coach Frank] Vogel about Stephenson's third year. "If he's going to play more at the two, then he's got to be able to space the floor.

"With his physicality and size and athleticism and his ability to make plays, if he comes back with a 3-point shot the way Paul George came back from year one to year two, I think it's going to be impossible not to have in the rotation and be a big part of what we're doing. If he develops that, look out."

--Pacers.com second year review

Stephenson truly did take over a rotation spot the next season, his third in the NBA, when former All-Star Danny Granger succumbed to major injury. He wasn't spectacular - just under 9 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists in 29 minutes per game - but he was a starter for a team that made the Eastern Conference Finals thanks in part to his bulldog defense.

Indeed, Stephenson became a dangerous-enough three-point shooter (33% on 3 attempts per game) to keep defenses honest and was a defensive stopper alongside Paul George on the wing.

Stephenson exploded in his fourth season, the one just ended. The season started off so strong, with Stephenson a nightly threat to put up a triple double alongside MVP Candidate Paul George.

The two of them also provided great defense on the wing, a rare offense/defense combination that propelled the Pacers to the league's best record after three months.

But then the wheels kinda fell off for Indiana, and one could argue that Lance's presence as a leader left a lot to be desired for an Indiana team that started hot but fractured as the season went along.

Still, he was heading to a huge payday. Some even thought he would earn $10-12 million per year on his new contract and on talent alone he would have gotten it. But his continued immaturity and involvement in the Pacer combustion last spring conspired to limit Stephenson to "only" $9 million per year from Charlotte after Indiana decided they couldn't commit more than $8 million per year to him.

Summary

I use Lance Stephenson as an example of a player who was doubted coming out of college, dropped in the draft and needed significant time to develop into a big-time threat on the court. The Pacers got two quality years from Stephenson as he vastly outplayed his contract before demanding market price.

The talent was always there for Stephenson, just as its there for Goodwin. Can Goodwin become the Suns' version of Stephenson? He won't ever be a great passer, but Goodwin clearly has the potential to be a high scorer and lock-down defender in the pros.

It's quite possible that Goodwin's career timeline could align with Stephenson's, culminating in being one of the best players on the team by his fourth season.

To be a quality NBA rotation player, Goodwin has to become a good individual defensive player and at least passable at team defense. He can't have those mental errors where he loses focus and allows a guy to cut behind him time and time again on the baseline for easy scores at the rim. He can't be okay giving up buckets while just waiting to score on the other end.

Offensively, he needs to make jump shots away from the rim to open up those driving lanes, and he needs to be a threat to dump the pass off to a scorer so the opponent can't send three guys to the rim whenever he drives.

I see a very good NBA player in Goodwin. He has all the gifts and tools he needs to become a top player in the NBA some day. It might take him another year to become that player, and he'd still only be 21. Heck, it might take him two more years.

But that's okay. He is extremely young. Let's just give his time to grow into his gifts.

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