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Suns coach Watson wants to see Goodwin, bench "compete on every possession"

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Lottery teams are loaded with fringe NBA players, especially at the back end of their rotations. As a guy stuck in the 10-15th slot on a roster, being on a losing team is a chance to show your value in a non-pressure situation. The coach goes deeper into his bench looking for a spark, so there's your chance to shine.

"When we start thinking about the bench," Suns coach Earl Watson says, "it's really a competitive opportunity for all to not just potentially stay on this roster but stay in the league."

NBA dreams die every summer. Sure, some players have their dreams fulfilled, either by being drafted or signed to a free agent contract. But most players with NBA ambitions end up on the outside looking in.

Most of those players who end up out of the league are out of the league for the most obvious of reasons. They just don't have the talent level and/or the size to succeed among the very best basketball players in the world. No shame in that. The league only carries about 450 players. That leaves tens of thousands of hopefuls around the world with NBA aspirations on the outside looking in.

Sometimes, you've got the size and skill but it's about not getting the right opportunity. If your player development coaches don't help you turn some weaknesses into strengths, or if the training staff don't help you get strong enough to hold up, or if the coach doesn't give you minutes at the right position, maybe it's someone else's fault that you're now out of the league.

But maybe, just maybe, if you've got enough talent and size to succeed in the NBA yet you're still frustrated with lack of playing time, maybe it's the player's fault more than anything else.

It's the player's dedication to his craft that overcomes weaknesses. It's the player's dedication to the weight room that gets him stronger. It's the player's commitment and attitude with the coach that gets him a better chance to play.

And when the coach puts you out there, you have to play like it's the last chance you'll ever get to show you belong. Every single time.

"You have to compete," Watson said. "You have to compete every possession. Nothing is granted in this league and we have a record that's only 20 wins. I don't think anything is guaranteed."

This year, the Phoenix Suns have two young guards players fighting for consistent minutes in the back court. Archie Goodwin, drafted by the Suns in 2013, has been waiting for his opportunity to become a regular rotation player for three years now. John Jenkins, acquired in a small trade in February, has now been on three teams in four seasons and is also fighting for a chance to stick.

Both players have one clear NBA skill. The problem is that the rest of their game remains suspect.

"If we need scoring, shooting, we have to automatically go with John Jenkins. If we need defense and game-changing ability to drive and push, you have to go with Archie."-Watson


"If we need scoring, shooting," Watson said, "we have to automatically go with John Jenkins. If we need defense and game-changing ability to drive and push, you have to go with Archie."

Watson was reaching there with applying defense as a good skill of Archie Goodwin. Goodwin ranks poorly in every defensive metric that's tracked, and fails the eyeball test watching the game because he gets stonewalled on screens and drifts off his man on the weak side.

Goodwin's strength remains his undaunted ability to drive to the rim. He can weave with purpose through traffic to get from the perimeter to the rim without deterrent.

His problem is that he does so with his head down and the ball low (not unlike Eric Bledsoe or Brandon Knight, of course). Players know he's not looking for the pass, so they just have to meet him in the restricted area to defend the rim. A good counter-balance to Archie's (and Eric's and Brandon's) style is to watch Devin Booker on drives. While the others drive with the purpose to get to the rim, Booker is clearly watching and reacting to the defense. His head is up, the ball is on a string, and he hesitates or puts on the jets based on what each defender is doing.

Archie takes 67% of his shots within 10 feet of the rim (highest among all Suns guards) but only converts 48% of them (worst among the Suns guards). He does get fouled a lot, which is great because it gives him free throws, but he only makes 69% of them for his career.

That's a good NBA skill though. And you'd think with time and opportunity, Archie would develop into a guy who can score more frequently when not fouled and make more free throws when he is.

So why not develop that skill with playing time? After a rookie season of sitting during a playoff run, Archie seemed a lock to get his chance behind starters Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in the coming years.

But the Suns had other plans. They seemed to go out of their way to add more players to the guard mix. First, it was Isaiah Thomas (free agent) and Tyler Ennis (draft). Then Zoran Dragic. Then Reggie Bullock. Then Seth Curry and a handful of D-League 10-days. Then this summer, it was Devin Booker (draft) and Sonny Weems (free agent). Then another handful of 10-days, and now John Jenkins (trade). And already, the Suns are talking up their chances to bring Bogdan Bogdanovic over for next season.

Why not clear the decks to give Archie all the time he needs to develop into a quality NBA player? Especially since the season was such a disaster and your best play would be to give a 21-year old the room to sink or swim.

Archie has gotten a much bigger chance this year than either of his first two. Despite all the competition, he's played twice the minutes of either of his first two years. He's gotten 13 starts, scored 20+ points seven times, and dished 5+ assists five times.

Still, his 1,021 minutes are 11th on the team. Something else is going on to give two different coaches (Jeff Hornacek, Earl Watson) pause before committing to Archie.

"Every player coming off the bench has an opportunity, but once it's granted you cannot take it for granted."

I asked the question of why Archie Goodwin was in and out of the rotation. Watson responded immediately with the comment about competing, then went into a long talk about the entire bench, and finished with the comment above.

To an outsider, it seems that Archie Goodwin might be suffering from the same affliction as his fans. It seems that Archie, while an extremely hard worker, is giving off the impression that he's being held back and when given the chance to play only shows 100% focus when the ball is in his hands.

I'll just point out a few instances this year where the coach or players gave Archie the hint that maybe he wasn't playing the right way.

In a game earlier this year, where Archie was being given his starting opportunity, Tyson Chandler knocked the opening tip back toward Archie. But Archie didn't react and the ball went all the way down the court untouched and out of bounds. Warriors ball. I've never ever seen that happen before. Within the next two minutes, Goodwin made a few other bonehead plays before coach Hornacek called timeout. Either Markieff Morris or P.J. Tucker, or both, talked loudly to Archie all the way to the bench. Archie was subbed out, and he spent the entire rest of the first quarter on the bench.

Fast forward to another game. The Suns were surprisingly competitive against the Atlanta Hawks, and Archie won the game on a fallaway 25-foot three pointer as time expired. Awesome ending! The rise of Archie! Except a couple of things troubled me. Rather than run to his teammates to celebrate the Suns only win in 1,000 days, he strutted around the court mugging to the fans. Then, in the post game interview, he openly said the coach called a different play but he scrapped it and took the shot himself. It was a contested, 25-foot three pointer by a guy who makes less than 30% of these in his career.

And finally, there was the Goodwin/Morris fight before Morris was traded. While Morris went crazy and did the unthinkable by attacking Goodwin in the timeout huddle, you have to wonder what Goodwin did to instigate the fight in the first place. While no one came clean on the particulars, Goodwin had made a few bad plays right before the timeout and reportedly yelled back at Morris that he wasn't the only problem on the team. Again, Goodwin was subbed out and spent the rest of the quarter at the end of the bench.

As soon as Ronnie Price was able to return to the lineup, Watson immediately said that it was Archie's and Suns' best interest to make him a "hybrid 2/3" for the rest of the season. No more point guarding. We all know Archie's not a point guard, so this can only be a good thing for Archie right? Except that the starting two and three (Booker and Tucker) lead the team in minutes played these days.

None of these in isolation mean much, and I'm likely taking them out of context. But coupling that with the Suns acquisitions over the past two years, and hearing Watson talk about competing on every possession has to make you wonder if the Suns message isn't getting through to Goodwin in a noticeable way on the court.

"If you see Ronnie Price play," Watson said during his explanation of the bench roles. "You'd think he was in the third year of his career with no contract trying to prove a point."

Ronnie Price IS trying to prove a point. He IS playing with no contract beyond June 30. But Watson's point is about effort. Even the most casual fan can tell the difference between Ronnie Price's effort on the court versus 90% of the league, no matter who the other player is.

That's what Watson wants to see from his bench players.

"You have to compete," Watson said. "You have to compete every possession. Nothing is granted in this league and we have a record that's only 20 wins. I don't think anything is guaranteed."