(NBA) While the vast majority of the Suns are young, the team's two rookies have brought the biggest reason for optimism, along with the greatest need for patience.
Alex Len and Archie Goodwin are talented. General Manager Ryan McDonough and Head Coach Jeff Hornacek have no doubts of that. How that talent comes about – and how soon that happens – remains to be seen.
Both first-year players have already impressed Hornacek in a big way, exhibiting a work ethic that is earning praise two days into training camp.
“Our young guys are good because they work hard,” Hornacek said. “That’s what’s going to make them better as the years go on. That’s what we’re happy about, is to see the effort they put in.”
It would raise eyebrows if a first-year prospect was the first to leave the practice court. Goodwin and Len, however, have made the opposite scene the rule of the day. After Tuesday morning's practice, the two rookies were the last players off the floor.
On one court, Goodwin was hoisting extra jumpers from beyond the arc, intent on making future defenses pay for not respecting his jump shot. Hornacek has taken time to give the former Kentucky star pointers and adjustments, though he admits it's a difficult balance to fix a shot that looks off, but falls more often than not.
“Archie’s got that shot where he brings it over his opposite eye,” Hornacek said. “He is left-eye dominant, so guys that are left-eye dominant shoot it over the middle of their forehead rather than over their right eye. We’ll just continue to work on it to make sure it doesn’t pull too far over. You’d say it’s not a great-looking shot, but it’s a decent-looking shot. You’d say ‘if he straightens it out’, but he seems to make a lot them. It’s one of those things. What do you do? We’re working on it.”
One court over from Goodwin, Len received passes from assistant coach Kenny Gattison, catching and shooting from five spots, all at midrange. The No. 5 overall pick followed that drill with post catches, turning and shooting for one-handed hook shots.
Len made sure to alternate between right and left-handed hooks, turning into the paint on one attempt, then back toward the baseline on the next, moving from one side of the key to the other after each set.
“I think he’s doing a great job of playing hard,” Hornacek said. “He’s trying to listen to what we’re doing. He’s asking the coaches questions. We forget sometimes how young he is and things that he has to learn. We’re trying to give him those little hints of when he gets the ball inside, how to get in the best position."
The real test for Len comes in the scrimmages, where the former Maryland standout faces two opponents. One is the altitude. The other is the remaining center rotation of Marcin Gortat, Miles Plumlee and Slava Kravtsov.
"I'm not used to the altitude and guys were competitive," Len said. "It's good for me to bang against those guys. They're a little stronger than me. In the league, people are going to be even stronger than them. It's good for me every today to just bang against them and find a way to score."
Scoring and skills are still a work in progress, but both players have embraced the tryout atmosphere encouraged by Suns management and coaches. Before training camp, Hornacek had needed to ask Goodwin to take a break from his extra night workouts in hopes he wouldn't burn himself out too soon.
"That's how I am," Goodwin said. "I want to be great. I'm going to go as hard as a can. When mistakes come, you fix them along the way. I'm not the guy that wants to take anything easy. I want to go full throttle man."
Meanwhile Len has done anything but hold back, participating in every drill and scrimmage just a handful of days after being cleared for basketball activities.
"I'm just trying to be competitive," he said. "I wasn't intimidated by anybody. i was helping a lot on defense. I think defensively, I can help out a lot."