Len’s health, Goodwin’s play fuel Suns’ optimism

PHOENIX — Their first scoring maneuvers in front of local fans were recorded as style points.

Modeling the Suns’ new home white uniforms, Alex Len and Archie Goodwin represented a large measure of first-round optimism during last week’s runaway event at Scottsdale Fashion Square.

By the way, both of Phoenix’s first-round rookies are fine with the orange, short-sleeved jerseys scheduled for duty every Friday night at U.S. Airways Center.

“We played in ’em in summer league,” Goodwin, the 29th overall selection in the NBA Draft a couple of months ago and a revelation, of sort, in that league. “If you get it too small or too big, there could be problems, but if you get it the right size, it’s good.”

But those tracking Len — who was the fifth overall pick — and Goodwin, the more interesting aspect of the fashion show was not the new duds, but the accessories.

Len, the 7-foot-1 hope of future basket-area production in Phoenix, was wearing a Nike sneaker on each foot. That certainly provides a karmic boost over memories of walking boots that accommodated Len following staggered surgeries on each ankle.

And Goodwin, whose unofficial draft stock had plummeted 20 spots (give or take) in a few months, still was outfitted with a sizeable chip on his shoulder.

“It wasn’t a surprise to me how well I played,” Goodwin, a 6-foot-5 guard, said of his work for the Suns in the Las Vegas Summer League. “It was a surprise to everyone else.”

The chip Goodwin had been balancing since an uneven freshman season at Kentucky devalued his draft position also was in evidence at the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program.

During an interview with a reporter from Slam Magazine, Goodwin had several bursts of self-confidence. This was the most compelling: “Now every team that didn’t pick me, I’ve got to give them hell.”

For Len, who flashed enough long-range potential to ride an up-and-down sophomore season at Maryland to the fifth pick, an interpretation of hell is being unable to prepare for the challenge of living up to post-draft expectations.

In addition to having surgery before the pre-draft process began, the Suns asked Len to have precautionary surgery to prevent future issues in the other ankle.

After strolling down the Fashion Square runaway in work shoes, the agile, 20-year-old Ukrainian center seemed eager to assure reporters that all is well below his calves.    

“I’ve got two more weeks of rehab and then I’ll be back about 85-90 percent,” he said. “I’ll be back for training camp and be ready for the season.

“The ankle’s feeling great. I have no pain.”

Unfortunately, Len’s wheels have prevented him from correcting certain performance-related issues that caused a chunk of Maryland fans to wonder why NBA scouts were seeing more in him than they were.

Foresight of future development is the key to being a savvy talent evaluator, of course. But Len’s robust potential has been countered by enough inconsistency to generate a not-exactly-flattering, stat-related inspection by the Washington Post.

For example, Len made just 39.3 percent of his field-goal attempts on post-up opportunities. And 41.2 percent of Len’s opportunities arrived via post-ups.

Working from the left block and turning over his right shoulder to the baseline, he connected at a 29.4 percent rate.

There are quite a few numbers to support Len’s potential for considerable improvement, but the data unloaded by the Post throws a little water on the widespread notion that his pedestrian 11.9 scoring average was a function of playing with mediocre guards.

Obviously, Len’s motivation to make corrections has been compromised by his inability to actually get back on the court. So, instead of drop-stepping and jump-hooking his way through the summer, he’s preparing in other ways.

With veteran Marcin Gortat working on the final year of his contract and still capable of mustering trade interest from other teams, the Suns can afford to be patient.

“I’m trying to just focus on the other things,” Len said. “Just learn the game because there are a lot of things I have to learn — different rules and stuff like that.

“I don’t really think about it. The doctors tell me to just not worry about it. Everything’s great, I’m feeling right. I don’t feel any pain, so there’s nothing to worry about.”

Outwardly at least, worry seems like an alien concept to Goodwin.

Despite a reality check from the draft – during which the Suns moved up from 30 to get him – the 18-year-old two guard had sufficient confidence to go out and give the summer Suns an average of 13.1 points over seven games.

In addition to making half of his field-goal attempts and piling up 48 free-throw attempts, Goodwin shot a sizzling 57 percent from beyond the 3-point stripe. Although his ability and overwhelming interest in getting into the lane rekindled memories of what turned off some scouts (he had 20 turnovers in Vegas), Goodwin’s name frequently was uttered by the “draft-night-steal” crowd.

“It wasn’t what I learned about myself,” Goodwin said when asked for an assessment of his summer league efforts. “It was more what I was trying to show everybody else.

“I was just trying to show everybody I can do more things than they thought I could.

“I got the opportunity to do the things I can do, and I showcased ’em.”

Len and Goodwin seem aware that short-term expectations for the Suns are low, and eager for their opportunity to change those opinions.

“We’re ready to do big things,” Len said. “Nobody expects us to be great. We’ve got a young team and we really want it.”

Goodwin sounded very much the same.

“I’m here working with these guys and getting better every day,” he said. “We’ve got the mindset we’re trying to be great.”