Is Drew Good-En-ough?
Can the Wizards spacing difference maker make enough of a difference?
Drew Gooden is a career journeyman. Since starring at Kansas, the 6-10 PF has played for 10 different teams in 13 seasons. Pretty good everywhere, but never good enough.
During 4 seasons with the Cavaliers, Gooden started 290 of a possible 292 games. Since then he has filled almost every role an NBA player can fill: Starter. Sixth man. Match-up based rotation guy. Bench warmer. Guy who only plays because of injuries.
His career numbers tell little about his actual career:
· 11.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 46% FG, 25% 3FG
Solid numbers for an NBA power forward. But the numbers don’t reflect the DNP-Coach’s decisions that have followed Gooden everywhere since he left Cleveland. His numbers suggest that when he plays, he produces. Yet his constantly changing roles for constantly changing teams suggest that Drew Gooden has just never done enough to make a team say “let’s make this guy a piece of our future” in his younger days, or “this guy could be the difference on our team right now” in his older days.
Through it all, Drew Gooden has simply been “professional,” the word coaches and management toss around about guys who they have nothing bad to say about, but ultimately have no on-court use for if everything else goes according to plan.
Gooden’s 2014-2015 Wizards campaign has oddly become a microcosm of his entire career. His season numbers tell a boring story:
· 4.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 39% FG, 32% 3FG, 14.6 minutes per game, 3 starts in 37 games, 8 inactives and 21 DNPs.
But Gooden’s season has been anything but boring. His performances and resulting impact have been all over the map. During 8 games in November, Gooden played 15 minutes per game. During December and January, he played 8 mpg. In February he played 17 mpg. In March he’s played 21 mpg. He’s had as many double figure scoring games as he’d had inactives.
Granted, a major factor in Gooden’s roller coaster season has been injuries to other players. When Kris Humphries has been hurt, Gooden has stepped in. When Nene has been hurt, Gooden has stepped in. Even when Paul Pierce was hurt, Gooden stepped in.
However, look closely at recent weeks, and a subtle but crucial shift has occurred.
· Drew Gooden career: 0.4 threes attempted per game, 25% 3FG
· Drew Gooden last 14 games: 1.14 threes attempted per game, 31% 3FG
· Drew Gooden last 7 games: 1.57 threes attempted per game
· All Wizards bigs combined 3 point attempts entire season: 9 (Nene-5, Humphries-4, Gortat -0, Serpahin-0)
Drew Gooden, in year 13, is subtly reinventing himself into a stretch power forward, who still manages to get his hand on seemingly every loose ball and inject energy into every minute he plays.
Watch this sequence:
Watch it again closely. Now ask the question: What happens if any Wizard OTHER than Gooden is in the game? Nene, Gortat, or Humphries would all be five feet closer to the basket, and Myers Leonard is closing out easily. Paul Pierce could knock down that shot, while leaving the Wizards to be abused on the glass on the other end. Even if Leonard did close out in time, the ball would be swung to Wall, who could drive into an unclogged paint, dishing to Beal for an open three when Afflalo drops to help, or finishing at the rim, or dropping it off to Seraphin when Lopez steps up (Wall being able to blow past Lillard is a given). The offense suddenly appears open and fluid, compared to the clogged, purposeless blob we’ve become accustomed to.
Everyone knows the Wizards have been playing better as of late, and they’ve still got to prove themselves on the road. But the Wizards playing better, and Gooden playing more, are not unrelated. The correlation is real.
Gooden is providing a spacing aspect the Wizards simply don’t have without him. In the process, he is changing himself from a guy who plays when other guys are hurt into a potential difference maker to the Wizards season. Wall has larger driving lanes when Gooden is stretching the floor, which results in better looks for Beal and Pierce off the drive-and-kick help. Gooden’s 21 minutes per game in 7 games in March is his high, by far, for any month this season. Not coincidentally, the Wizards 20.3 three point attempts per game in March is by far their most of any month, after averaging about 16.5 three point attempts per game prior to March. Let’s call it the Gooden Effect.
With Drew Gooden, with Drew Gooden’s entire career, there is always a “but.” There is always a question about his performance, about his ability. There is always THE question: Is Drew Gooden good enough? Nine previous teams eventually decided the answer was “no.” Not a good enough starter. Not a good enough 6th man. Not a good enough match-up problem.
The question the Wizards will be asking the remainder of the season: Is Drew Gooden a good enough “stretch power forward” to actually stretch the floor in a consistently effective way? Or is he just a power forward who shoot’s from too far, who opponents are happy to leave open?
Like his entire career, Gooden has shown flashes in both directions. This season, he’s shooting 32% from 3, after shooting 41% last season. Both figures are well above his career average of 25%, and both figures are better than any previous season he’s ever had.
Beyond the percentages, the eye test tells the same story. Just watching the games makes it obvious: Some nights Drew’s cooking, and some nights Drew’s just out there “taking bad shots.”
The bottom line: Consistent inconsistency is a problem, a problem that has been the story of Drew Gooden’s career. Reliability is vital to earn the trust of teammates, coaches, and management. Through injuries, Drew Gooden has been given one final opportunity to earn that trust and make himself a difference maker. The Wizards have 15 games left before the playoffs. Gooden has 15 games left to prove he can be trusted. Is he the newly reinvented stretch four the Wizards have been lacking, the guy who can provide the reliable and consistent offensive spacing and versatility to take them to the next level? Or is he just Drew Gooden, the guy who gives you a little something different every night, until he inevitably returns to the end of the bench to watch Kris Humphries do the exact same things every night?
Fourteen games. If Drew Gooden can be consistent, the Wizards can be great. If not? The Wizards will be just another promising playoff team, who flash a different brilliance every night, without a definitive concrete identity, only to inevitably end up on the outside looking in.
Just like Drew Gooden.