Backup shooting guard Archie Goodwin isn't quite old enough to drink alcohol legally. Each of his last three summers, he's spent at least two weeks in Las Vegas playing for the Phoenix Suns summer league team, but wasn't even old enough gamble on his days off, let alone hit the clubs.
Yet here he is about to enter his third NBA season, already at a highly important crossroads of his NBA career with the Phoenix Suns.
Goodwin was taken 29th by the Suns in the historically weak 2013 draft as an 18-year old. He barely played in either of his first two years in the NBA, blocked by his own limitations as well as a deep, deep depth chart ahead of him.
But he's tired of waiting his turn.
"If [my chance] don't come next year, I'm not going to take it," Goodwin said last year in December when his frustration boiled over for lack of playing time. "That's basically what it's going to come down to. But that's not for me to worry about, that's for my agent to talk to those guys about."
While he hasn't been set up for guaranteed minutes this year like fellow draftees Alex Len or T.J. Warren have been, Goodwin enters his third NBA season with the best chance of his career to earn a regular rotation spot.
Goodwin, who turns 21 next month, is fighting for the backup shooting guard position behind Brandon Knight. Assuming Knight rests for 15 minutes a night and shifts to point guard for another 15 minutes or so while Bledsoe rests, there is a great opportunity for someone to lay claim to the bulk of the backup shooting guard minutes.
Goodwin is more than ready to "kick the door down" after knocking on it for the last two years (per a since-deleted tweet last week) when he was squeezed out of a crowded back court. Goodwin spent considerable time in D-League while Goran Dragic, P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green took all the shooting guard minutes for the big club. Tucker was the team's starting small forward, but played shooting guard in big lineups and against great opponents (Harden, Bryant, etc.).
On the down side, Goodwin didn't force his way into any minutes through his play. He has a big hitch in his shot, low release point, poor court vision and consistently loses his man on defense, a victim of watching the ball while his man cuts back door for an open shot.
On the good side, he'a a very hard worker, an incredible athlete with the physical tools to become an excellent NBA defender, and he's already one the league's better players at creating points on drives to the rim.
Witness his best highlight from 2014-15.
Goodwin more often fights through traffic to put up a tough layup while getting contact, but his dunks are fun to watch when he goes for it.
If he can focus on defense and clear up his shot mechanics, Goodwin can become a quality NBA rotation player.
Assistant coach Mike Longabardi said as much last year, entering Summer League.
"He's good enough to be a rotational player in this league," Longabardi said of Goodwin, then only 19. "He's got to get stronger, which he is working on, he's got to get experience which he'll get in summer league. And then from there, it's going to be up to him to see how far he can go. He's very blessed with god given ability with his quickness and athleticism, thats the reason why we like him."
Archie had a tough summer league a year ago, but never would have gotten a good chance to play last year anyway. The Suns entered the season with Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker ahead of him on the depth chart. They added Reggie Bullock and Marcus Thornton to the mix mid-season. Even Zoran Dragic provided competition, and T.J. Warren played some shooting guard on occasion.
Still, Archie knew he wasn't a finished product.
"I've got to get better defensively," Goodwin said to sportingnews.com. "That is what it comes down to for me, because we have so many great scorers on our team. The only way I can get minutes is to make an impact defensively. They want me to come down here for that purpose, to stay in game shape, to keep getting game minutes."
He got a chance to play last spring after the trade deadline. He played in 28 of the Suns last 29 games, logging 15+ minutes in half of them. Still, with the Suns struggling to score in any fashion (29th in the league over that stretch), Archie managed just 7 points per game.
Despite taking most of his shots at the rim, Goodwin has converted just 42% of all shots in his career. He's been a poor jump shooter, making barely 20% of FGs outside three feet last year.
Kellan Olson provided a great review of Archie's season here.
But this year, the back court is much thinner. Gone are Dragic, Dragic, Green, Thomas, Thornton and Bullock.
Entering the 2015-16 season, the Suns only have two proven starters in the back court - Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. Behind them are Ronnie Price, Sonny Weems, rookie Devin Booker and Goodwin. If you're scratching your head over those names, you're not alone.
Price is a 10-year veteran but hardly a major rotation player on a playoff caliber team, and he certainly won't be fighting for any shooting guard minutes. Weems has not been in the NBA since 2011, and was always a small forward before heading overseas. Booker, a pure shooting guard, hasn't started since high school and is still only 18 years old until just before opening night.
While Goodwin isn't being handed a regular role to lose like Len and Warren, he's not exactly being buried on the depth chart. If Goodwin can't beat these guys out in training camp and preseason for regular playing time, that says more about Goodwin than anyone else.
He his credit, Archie is one of the hardest workers on the team. He puts in so much work on his jumper, and this summer league he revealed a big improvement in the motion.
Comparing his shot to Devin Booker's is not fair (Booker has a much higher release point and smoother motion), but Goodwin no longer comes all the way across his body left to right before letting go, giving him a better chance to get the shot off when contested as well as a better chance to make it with a smoother release.
But regardless of the motion, he just needs to make enough jumpers to keep the defense honest. Heck, he just needs to have enough confidence in his own jumper to make the defense pay for sagging off of him to defend the drive.
If Goodwin can focus on defense and score at the rim on offense (something the Suns offense needs a lot more this year than last year), his new-found ability to make jumpers might be the make-or-break improvement he needs to earn a regular rotation spot in 2015-16.
If he can't beat out Weems and Booker for playing time behind Knight, he might just live down to his draft status - 29th overall in a historically bad draft.
But if Archie becomes regular player this year, still only 21 years old, he will set himself up for a great extension on his rookie deal and a long NBA career.