This Phoenix Suns roster is littered with top-end, dynamic offensive talents who all bring something unique to the fold. Past that layer, there are more offensive-minded players in the second tier, who also bring unique skills that further deepen the overall dynamic of the team – in look and feel.
In it all, lies a need for defensive-minded guys that can not only balance the myriad of skills at the team’s disposal but also help to both cover up for and make life easier on the less glamorous end of the floor.
As the Suns parse through the rigors of the preseason, and gather data plus film on player combinations, sets, schemes, and philosophies, what should leap off the film is the abilities of guys that can nail the margins – mostly tied to effort and attention to detail, with consistency.
That, plus some skill in the abilities of Jordan Goodwin is at his foundation and should punch him a ticket into the Suns' main rotation, come the 82-game marathon.
Point-of-attack defense is at a premium across the NBA. Most teams have a singular guy that’s truly effective there, and playable without forcing it in a manner that is compromising to the team offensively.
For the Suns, there are two players that most align with that defensive archetype. We’ve already spoken about Josh Okogie’s valued activity and the reasons why he should be the fifth starter.
In a lot of ways, the same case can be made for Jordan Goodwin — in a reserve role — to be that archetype in a solid percentage of the non-Okogie minutes. Like Okogie, he is 6’3”. While Okogie possesses a 7’0” span in tow.
Zooming in a little more on Goodwin, he compiled 84 stocks in 62 games played last season and also spent 71.3% of his time last season guarding opposing guards. It takes mere seconds watching his film to see the feel he plays with on the defensive end of the floor. He has undeniable versatility that allows him to switch defensive roles, from a point-of-attack guy to a wing-stopper.
While, with respect to guarding wings, undersized and at just 200 pounds, his defensive instincts and activity levels allow for him to be a nuisance in those scenarios deemed to be disadvantageous to both him and his team when he’s matched up with a wing.
In forcing 54 turnovers, you can see the impact he has with his hands, defensive movement patterns, and anticipatory skill. That dynamic – one which was truly valued by Chris Paul in his time with the Suns – helps to add unpredicted levels of value to the defensive side of the ball.
His hands are always active on-ball, and especially off it, where he can tap into his fairly solid feel in anticipation. He’s very good in passing lanes, as well as in help or support scenarios – ultra active at the nail and, while not the quickest, is an athlete in the open floor defensively.
Small sample size in him playing just two games so far this preseason, but the impact lept off the screen in multiple moments.
Let’s zoom in on some of Goodwin’s film.
Pistol action detaches him from the ball as they try to go at Booker, keeping him in action. Watch, though, how Goodwin dances at the 2.9 from overload to across the helpline, then back as he anticipates the drive baseline.
The drive is well-timed as Simons tries does beat him to the strong side block, however, with a hat tip to Booker for staying on the hip, Goodwin can jump first and use that in tandem with his hands to beat Simons to the release.
Next zoom in on the angle to see his skills meshing into one play.
Only a defensive-minded player with great hands is making this play.
These are floor-raising efforts that we will see are consistent from him.
We see a few of his values all in one rep here.
Look at his activity on-ball. Solid enough in navigating the screen to keep Nurkic on the porch and away from a late-switch, then, staying attached to the hip after.
That forces a pass out, with which Ayton attacks.
This is where he’s just as effective, as he toggles from the point-of-attack and navigating screens, to being active in help, displaying his great hands to pick the pocket in anticipation.
Look at the effort, after starting this play behind the ball, to get back into the play. Gets the possession back via quick hands, and it leads to an easy two.
The 3 switches at the beginning of this possession were all connected, & anticipated— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) October 17, 2023
Flattens out the attack instantly, then finish the possessions with activity & get into the open floor pic.twitter.com/CXE3kmDzos
His hands above, combined with Metu’s, to finish off the play. Leading to more points.
This one speaks for itself with his creativity and effectiveness, again leading to points. Zoom in more and you see how he creates the opportunity, via dictating defensively.
After crowding Henderson’s airspace and forcing some retreat, he times up the swipe after influencing his to the baseline.
Next, look at some of his activity and anticipation — truly being a step ahead — at the nail.
Just notice how active is, not just stunting at the ball but doing so with purpose and intention to cause chaos.
The first time aids in terminating a dribble, in support. The next one he plays cat and mouse — veering into the blindspot, then swiping away the rock.
It’ll be more of the same, below.
Here, it’s all anticipation.
Now, he does get hung up on the screen in navigating — an area in which he’s decent, but there’s certainly room for improvement. Nonetheless, he does quit on the play and even continues to compete.
Then, after getting back into position, finishes with anticipation as Bates-Diop forces a turn, right into the nail help.
A ton of the attention from him will come from the steals, but the positioning and dictating from him that lead to a lot of his steals — off feel and instinct — are what should take precedence.
He led the Suns in the preseason with 10 “stocks,” including eight steals, and deflections-galore.
His room for improvement with screen navigation can certainly be better, given his small space athleticism and awareness, as was mentioned above. At times, he can be overzealous for steals (on-ball and in help), which can pin him behind schedule or out of place.
His ambition for the ball can get him into tough situations, but he has the defensive movement patterns to wiggle back into position, as we saw a few times above.
In general, he is an aggressive on-ball defender, and that’s what his teammates need, plus they know he is and are on high alert from the feast of that (in sped-up action or loose balls) or famine (blowbys that garner emergency support, help, or switches).
His aggression and ability to be effective and impactful doing so are just what will enable his opportunity, as well as help him raise the floor of the Suns in lineups featuring him. It’s where his value comes from, and so long as his discernment continues to evolve, there should truly be a role for him with this team.
What would be his role?
When two of the Booker/Durant/Beal trio rest, having the Suns take on a slightly more defensive-minded iteration would bode extremely well.
In that, and imagining Okogie may also get a rest then, the Suns have multiple others in the wing-oriented defensive player's realm.
Keita Bates-Diop is a player who is versatile but better suited on bigger guards/wing types due to foot speed dynamics.
Chimezie Metu is also a bigger wing, and spent 43.2% of his minutes guarding forwards, and 30.6% guarding centers — presenting plenty of the same dynamics Bates-Diop does, in a slightly bigger frame.
Nassir Little spent 47% of his time on both guards and forwards last season and likens to Goodwin size-wise as well.
They all bring a different flavor to the fold defensively, and, having that size behind a dogged point-of-attack defender the likes of Goodwin, brings a healthy blend in lineup outlook that’ll allow for them to be chaotically active defensively — with size — while one of the big three is the primary option in the other end.
A nuisance, likely next to or behind, Allen, would enable him pockets of the game to up the tempo. Being the defensive change of pace guard has a ton of value, and given the glowing remarks Vogel has had plus the reactions seen from the sideline for his efforts in real-time, it’s clear he’s won over the attention of the brain trust, via his efforts on the defensive end.
Keeping tabs on his development, plus the lineups and defensive coverages in the minutes he earns this season will be a treat to track.