With one game in the Las Vegas bank, it’s apparent that the summer-stock version of the Phoenix Suns is what we thought it would be.
During Saturday’s 82-69 triumph over the Portland Trail Blazers’ junior varsity, Markieff Morris looked sort of beastly at times, Kendall Marshall demonstrated poor lateral movement on defense and P.J. Tucker didn’t.
But the youngster who provided the most compelling reasons for our interest — since rookie center Alex Len is rehabilitating one ankle and recently had surgery on the other — was guard Archie Goodwin.
With Suns fans required to wait three months before viewing an explosive guard who used to play at Kentucky (Eric Bledsoe), it was enjoyable to watch an even younger kid (Archie’s only 18) from the same school.
And, in the summer-league environment, Goodwin looked pretty decent — especially in the second half.
“After some typical plays we’ve seen from him before, I think you saw why people were so high on him a year ago,” a personnel executive from another NBA team said after an in-person viewing of Goodwin’s pro debut.
Right, there were a couple of decisions that reminded us of Goodwin’s freshman season at UK. The bouncy, 6-foot-5 combo guard often was pressed into primary-ballhandler duty with the Wildcats, and he didn’t exactly wow coaches or scouts with what transpired after he froze an initial defender en route to the rim.
Against the Trail Blazers, Goodwin’s first touch was another lesson in why most team defenses force ballhandlers into sideline/baseline attacks. Finding himself able to get a step on his defender, the 29th overall pick last month drove baseline, eagerly elevated and was turned away by shot-blocking, 7-foot, second-year center Meyers Leonard.
But Goodwin sort of rallied from that freshman-season rewind by feeding Markieff Morris for a transition dunk moments later. Since we’re being picky, however, it should be pointed out that Goodwin didn’t make Leonard commit (as in stopping the ball) and threw an air pass to Morris that the Blazers’ big — whose hand level was high, of course — could have deflected. Leonard’s slow hands allowed Goodwin to get away with not making a bounce pass that’s usually easier to handle for a player on the move (as long as it reaches the receiver’s chest).
Anyway, the rookie had a pretty nice second half and finished the game with 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting.
Goodwin was 1 of 2 from 3-point range and 4 of 6 from the free-throw line. Although the marksmanship was encouraging — based on his results at Kentucky — Archie still hasn’t begun the mechanical upgrade that would generate more natural loft on his shot.
He simply doesn’t fully extend on his release. Rather than finish a shot with his elbow extended at or above his eyebrow level, Goodwin’s elbow stays considerably lower, and his ball is rewarded with little trajectory. That said, it’s not nearly as scary as Dwight Howard’s rusty elbow and could be an easy fix if Archie buys in.
On the plus side, Goodwin was pretty active and effective defending the ball but must learn to avoid being “face cut” after his man passes and makes a beeline to the bucket. His handle is pretty solid, though, and he should benefit from the NBA defensive-three-second rule that keeps the lane less congested.
Meanwhile, as is the custom of many new coaches, Jeff Hornacek sat in the lead chair during Saturday’s summer-league opener.
While the Suns did attempt to push the pace, Hornacek’s offensive scheme also included elements of what Jerry Sloan favored as coach of the Utah Jazz. Hornacek, who teamed with John Stockton in Sloan’s backcourt in Utah, frequently used a point-guard-to-trailer pass to initiate action in the Suns’ secondary offense.
Cross screens were employed, mostly to get Morris on the move and into what became the strong-side post after the first ball reversal to the trailer. Marshall would fake a basket cut after hitting the trailer, then back screen (how many times did we see Stockton do that?) for the trailing big who had reversed the ball.
Hornacek’s Suns also used some 1-4 high sets with a wing entry, UCLA cut off the high post and side pick-and-roll action.
Defensively, the summer Suns went under ball screens during a first half that saw Blazers rookie C.J. McCollum drop 16 points. Not all of his production came off ball screens, but the Suns did start to blitz those schemes midway through the third quarter with some success.