By DAN KELLY
Special to ZAGSBLOG
NEW YORK — Archie Goodwin caught the ball on the wing, blew by his defender and Euro-stepped through traffic for a finish at the rim.
He looked like a young Manu Ginobili. Fearless, creative and athletic.
In his debut Friday night at Barclays Center he tallied 16 points (3-8 from the floor and 9-11 FTs) and a team-leading 37 minutes in Kentucky’s 72-69 win over Maryland. Goodwin is the most dynamic offensive player on the Wildcats and he’ll be carrying a heavy load this year.
Goodwin and the No. 3 Wildcats (1-0) will be on display again Tuesday when they face Duke in the Champions Classic in Atlanta (9:30, ESPN). Kansas faces Michigan State in the first game (7, ESPN).
In Friday’s contest, all of Goodwin’s game, the good and the bad, was on display. On a number of occasions he forced his way into the paint where he finished or drew fouls. Goodwin’s drives are aggressive, North/South explosions to the rim where he can elevate, absorb contact and still finish. He could have settled for 3’s a few different times but he put the ball on the floor instead and got to the rim.
What I liked most about his game was the efficiency of his drives. He doesn’t hesitate. He makes one good move and explodes. Is he reckless on occasion? Yes, absolutely. He will learn to pick his spots more prudently as the season moves along and coach John Calipari’s wisdom gets wedged further into his head.
Five years ago coach Calipari had a talented freshman shooting guard named Tyreke Evans. Eleven games into the 2008-09 season Calipari switched Evans to point guard and both the team and Evans excelled. The 2012 Kentucky Wildcats are a different team. Evans and Goodwin are different players but a similar situation could be developing. Starting point guard Ryan Harrow was sick and unproductive in the opener so Calipari played Goodwin a solid chunk of time at point guard. (For more on the Harrow situation, read Adam’s column from Friday here.)
As a point guard Goodwin looked like a different player. He set up the offense, made the first pass and then stood at the top of the key. He seemed bored and distant from the game. Is this just a freshman with drifting concentration? Is this a shooting guard playing out of position? I think both situations were at work.
At 6-foot-5, Goodwin would have great size for a point guard at the next level. He looks perfectly comfortable bringing the ball up and initiating the offense. His ability to knife into the lane will open up kick-outs to shooters and drop-offs to bigs. But Goodwin isn’t a natural point guard. Twice on Friday, he drove down the lane, drew a help defender, and forced up a contested shot while one of his big men stood unguarded at the rim.
Asked Monday by reporters in Kentucky if he would feel comfortable playing the point going forward, Goodwin said: ““It is different but it’s not something that I mind doing. I don’t mind doing it all and I am not a selfish player. Anything that I can just do for us to get a win, I will do.”
Before we get too high on Goodwin as a shooting guard or too low on him as a point guard there is one important issue to address. In the second half Maryland assigned Dez Wells to Goodwin. Wells, the Xavier transfer, is an NBA level athlete.
Goodwin set Wells up for a big left-to-right crossover dribble and Wells stayed in front of Goodwin who sent an errant pass to a heavily-guarded Nerlens Noel. Goodwin went into his “bored point guard” act for a couple plays and then challenged Wells again. This time it was a left-handed hesitation dribble and explosion down the left side of the paint. Again Wells stayed right with Goodwin who forced up a shot that never had a chance. Maybe Wells is just a Dahntay Jones-type defender. Or maybe Goodwin was tired after playing over 30 (very physical) minutes in his first ever college game. Either way we saw that Goodwin could be stopped.
After the game Calipari lauded Goodwin’s skills but also alluded to the final pair of free throws for Maryland when it was Goodwin who failed to block out the shooter (Alex Len), who got his own rebound and narrowed Kentucky’s lead to 1. Those are the kinds of plays that will age Calipari this season. But NBA scouts won’t get hung up on mental mistakes in November. Scouts want to see the raw skills.
Goodwin looked like an NBA slasher before Wells stopped him. His leaping ability is elite. So is his length. His shooting stroke looks a little young. By that I mean that he’s still flinging the ball with his arm rather than shooting it with his wrist. He nailed his lone 3-point attempt in the game but he showed a concerning mechanic: The Carmelo twist. This is when a shooter twists his trunk during his shot so that his shoulders get pulled away from the rim. Calipari will probably clean that up pretty quick if Goodwin will let him.
One game into his freshman season Goodwin has our attention.
Will his defense catch up to his offense? Will his shooting stroke be consistent? Can he play the point? Can he score on elite defenders?
Dan Kelly covers the Knicks, Nets and college basketball for brooklynfans.com. He has coached select teams, high school teams and individual players on the West Coast and in South America.