Suns lean on T.J. Warren, Archie Goodwin with Brandon Knight injured
PHOENIX — In a season turning south for the Phoenix Suns thanks to a boom-or-bust offense, the skills of rookie forward T.J. Warren and second- year guard Archie Goodwin could be in increasingly high demand.
Warren scored 11 points off the bench in a career-high 24 minutes in a loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday, while Goodwin played point guard. In eight minutes, he scored four points and made a pair of nice passes, one of which led to a Warren layup.
Turning to the two players, each short of their 22nd birthday, is not ideal for the Suns. But it’s a necessity now that starting point guard Brandon Knight’s injured left ankle will keep him out of Wednesday’s game against Minnesota. Knight watched practice Tuesday on crutches.
"It’s pretty sore," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said of Knight’s ankle. "I think they’re just going to get treatment on him and see. Hopefully it’s not too long."
Revealing the timetable of Knight’s return to some degree, the Suns have agreed to sign Seth Curry, the brother of Golden State’s Stephen Curry, to a 10-day contract, RealGM’s Shams Charania reports. Curry spent time with the Suns Summer League squad and is averaging 23.5 points and 3.9 assists while shooting 48 percent from three for the D-League’s Erie Bayhawks.
Even with the addition, it’s hard not to believe Phoenix will use this period to give Goodwin and Warren significant time, as Hornacek did in the 98-80 loss to the Warriors.
The lack of a backup point guard opens minutes for every wing player on the roster. Hornacek hinted that P.J. Tucker could slide from small forward to shooting guard, as he did to start the second half against the Warriors, when forward Marcus Morris joined the starting unit in place of Knight. Marcus Thornton or Gerald Green could also have more opportunities, though neither have done well seeing spot minutes.
Goodwin, who has played sparingly, makes the biggest jump to backup point guard.
"Just like anything else, we’re looking for guys that can give us consistent effort at that spot," Hornacek added. "Obviously, right now, Archie will have to play some point guard again. I thought he did a good job last night of kind of seeing the situation out there."
Overall, Hornacek said he saw good things on offense for stretches, but he is still drilling the Suns to keep their ball movement up.
On Tuesday, a day after wondering whether he should begin using video of other teams during film sessions, Hornacek’s practice went long. The Suns watched tape of themselves only, taking in the bad and the good. It’s likely most of Warren’s performance against Golden State was the latter. The North Carolina State product showed his cutting abilities — or a more specific distinction in the eyes of Hornacek — his knack for creating passing lanes for his on-ball teammates to find him when he does cut.
Meanwhile, Goodwin showed signs he knows how to take advantage of his slashing ability with the ball. It melds well with Warren’s off-ball IQ.
"When I’m driving aggressively, a lot of people pay attention to me and he sneaks behind," Goodwin said. "He’s just clever with it, so I’m able to hit him on backdoors."
Though Phoenix has dropped two disappointing games in a row to two of the hottest teams in the NBA, Golden State and Cleveland, the offensive problems haven’t been isolated to the past several days.
Two weeks ago, Hornacek said the Suns could take some lessons from Warren.
"We’re talking to them all the time about cutting from the slot especially to draw guys with you and maybe the guy can fill in on the backside and get a shot," Hornacek said then. "T.J. . . . it’s one of his strengths. He’ll cut from anywhere."
Since the Suns sent Goran Dragic to Miami and Isaiah Thomas to Boston and acquired Knight, their offense has produced 98 points per 100 possessions, down six points from prior to the trade deadline. The defense has given up two fewer points per 100 possessions, but it hasn’t been enough to keep the Suns from falling down the standings.
Warren and Goodwin could turn out to be more than part-time fillers. The growing pains they’ll face will give Suns fans something compelling and fresh to watch as Knight recovers. It’s also a valuable opportunity for the youngsters to play important minutes. Those have already led Warren to finding his confidence.
"When they get you out there and they run sets for you, you get to see they trust you a little bit," Warren said. "Once you take advantage of that and capitalize on the opportunities, that’s when you gain more floor time."
And perhaps the Suns would benefit if Warren and Goodwin can teach their elder teammates a few lessons, too.