When the Phoenix Suns acquired small forward Reggie Bullock last week, they added to their treasure chest of young talent that now goes three deep at the shooting guard position alone.
With Reggie Bullock in the fold, the Suns now have six first round picks from the 2013 and 2014 NBA drafts (Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis, Bogdan Bogdanovic) in their control. Bogdan is staying in Europe for a couple of years, but the Suns filled his slot with undrafted Zoran Dragic, a 10-year pro veteran overseas who's now just another NBA rookie (25 years old) on a team full of kids.
"[The Suns] know what they're doing, I guess," Archie Goodwin said to VotS' Scott Chasen last week. "At the end of the day, there's nothing I can do about it."
Every one of these kids had a load of talent and would be getting regular minutes for a bottom dweller in the standings. Struggling teams such as the Knicks and Lakers would love to trot out such youth in a lost season, while the Sixers do it every night.
On the Suns, though, there's no minutes to be had. So why acquire Bullock to make the logjam even worse? Assets. most fans have already speculated on this, and it's quite true. The Suns are just putting another coin in the treasure chest.
Until that big trade, though, the Suns need to evaluate the talent they have to make sure the guys they keep are the RIGHT guys to keep.
Limited game action
Only one of these six youngest players - Alex Len, 21 years old - is making an impact in the 24-18 Phoenix Suns rotation. For a team sitting in playoff position and expecting to win every game, there's very little time for game-action for unpredictable kids.
Coach Hornacek already has his hands full with winning games on the backs of young players, just not quite as young as the kids. His 25-something regular rotation has the most wins (24) among the league's young rosters but also the most technical fouls (33). The Suns sit strongly in the 8th playoff spot, despite losing a handful of winnable game earlier in the year that probably wouldn't have been surrendered by a more experienced team. To win in the second half against a tougher schedule, Hornacek will have to keep his rotation tight.
"We're probably going to have to go slow with Reggie," Hornacek said before the Suns Friday night game against the 6-31 Timberwolves. In that game, among the kids only T.J. Warren got off the bench for five first-half minutes. "You know, we know what he can do. With our rotation of late, it's going to be tough to get him in there. It's hard to get Archie in the game (who plays the same position)."
Such is the dilemma of amassing young talent. Either you're Orlando or Philadelphia, who are more interested in playing the kids than making the playoffs, or you're Phoenix who wants to win and ends up sitting most of the kids out.
The Suns affiliation with the D-League's Bakersfield Jam is helpful. Archie Goodwin, T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis have all hit the Jam for five games apiece so far, each averaging 20+ points on nights they weren't actively deferring to the others.
Archie has spent this weekend with the Jam, who are participating in the D-League Showcase for NBA scouts to watch the winningest eight teams compete all in the same place - kind of like Summer League... in the Winter. Archie has averaged 24.5 points per game in two games so far this stint, but has not shown significant development in his areas of weakness as of yet. He's gotten half his points on driving dunks, while missing most of his jump shots.
It's the young players' ability to improve their skills on the practice court with the coaches that will get them playing time.
There is a reason Alex Len (21) has cracked the regular rotation as one of only four starting centers in the entire league who are 21 or younger (Andre Drummond, Jusuf Nurkic and Steven Adams are the others), while the others are still riding the pine. He got healthy, gained 15 pounds in the weight room, developed his rebounding and shot-altering skills while also refining his offensive repertoire on the practice court.
Len was drafted by a team who already had a starting center (Marcin Gortat) and since traded for another starter (Miles Plumlee) and the "best backup center in the league" (Brandan Wright). But Len worked his way up the depth chart and now has solidified his hold on the starting spot thanks to his skill development.
Archie Goodwin was drafted into a logjam at shooting guard, but he hasn't earned minutes ahead of other players yet. In fact, the Suns have since signed another shoot-first point guard (Isaiah Thomas) and picked up three other shooting guard prospects (Bogdan Bogdanovic, Zoran Dragic and Reggie Bullock) since Archie joined the team, all while keeping the guys who were ahead of him on draft day.
Archie Goodwin (20) came into the league with profile of a supreme talent who just didn't yet know how to play the game of basketball. Archie has a great work ethic, often being the last to leave the practice court and having a great desire to achieve, but a year later he still has a huge hole in his game: he can't make jump shots.
While Archie can drive to the hole against anyone, even scoring 29 in the Suns finale last year against the Kings, he just doesn't have the stroke or the confidence to make enough jump shots to keep the opponent honest. Neither does he keep his head up on drives to pass the ball to a waiting shooter when he sucks in the defense.
On a team like the Sixers, Archie could be a Tony Wroten type who gets a bunch of minutes and makes highlight reels despite shooting at low percentage outside the paint.
But on the Suns, he's just not good enough yet to take time away from Gerald Green, Goran Dragic or P.J. Tucker. And now, he's got Zoran and Reggie (and Bogdan) as competition for minutes in the future.
Enter Reggie Bullock
Bullock, a 6'7" 218-pound shooting guard who's now one of the old kids at soon-to-be 24, joins Archie and Zoran in the rotation with the player development coaches of the Suns. He will attempt to show the coaches that he stands out from those guys and even that he deserves minutes with the big club in the regular rotation.
"They love to get out and run," he said of the Suns. "Love to spot for 3s, love to share the ball. I just feel like that's pretty much my game. I know my strengths and I know what this team can use for me. I'm just going to be able to shoot the ball and play defense."
What Reggie has going for him is a clear role as a 3-and-D guy. He knows he's a catch-and-shooter and he knows he needs to play defense to get into a regular rotation.
Unfortunately, he didn't get much chance to show those skills in LA, despite that team's desperate need for a 3-and-D guy behind starter J.J. Redick.
ClipsNation's FlybyKnite gave this scouting report on Reggie's season-and-a-half in LA:
To be fair to Bullock, he didn't get much playing time with the Clippers but part of that was due to him not showing much when he was on the court.
They wanted to believe he was a possible 3-and-D guy but his defense is not good, especially off the ball. He can get lost by ball-watching a lot and tends to overhelp and get caught out of position. His on-ball defense flashes some potential but not much. Often fails to recognize the type of guy he's guarding and plays them the wrong way.
Offensively, he's an average ball-handler and good athlete in the open floor with the potential for a good shot. Problem is that it didn't translate much last year but has translated some this year.
The biggest flaw with him is that he'll be 24 in March and hasn't really shown much improvement at all. If he ever can become an adequate enough shooter, he could have a spot as a 7-or-so minute per game guy just on that alone but you'd have to hide him defensively and go from there.
Well that's not a ringing endorsement for Reggie Bullock in the NBA, is it? FlybyKnite has watched all of the Clippers games plus he's a basketball junkie who makes big boards for the draft and catches every game he can across the league.
Yet Suns GM Ryan McDonough thinks he's a player. Reggie thought he would be drafted by the Suns last year (he was taken four spots ahead of Archie), though I'll wager to guess a half-dozen players thought they were Suns favorites. Still, the Suns liked him in the draft as the 3-and-D player he can still become.
Will Reggie Bullock earn some playing time this year with the big guys? Who knows, but it will be interesting to watch how it all plays out.
Watch the intro interview with Bullock, who surprised me with how well he knew the Suns players and style.
It's in the Suns best interest to get a real evaluation on the futures of Bullock, Zoran Dragic and Archie Goodwin before they have to decide who to package in a trade versus who to keep around. You don't want to give away a future star.