From undrafted to a guaranteed NBA contract: Brandon Goodwin’s story

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, left, pours water on guard Brandon Goodwin (0) after a 102-95 victory. (AP Photo/Brett Davis)

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Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, left, pours water on guard Brandon Goodwin (0) after a 102-95 victory. (AP Photo/Brett Davis)

While working his way through the G League, Brandon Goodwin would watch NBA games on TV and think about what he’d do if he ever got to that level.

“‘If you ever get that chance, you’ve got to make sure these guys got energy,’” Goodwin told himself.

When the Hawks, his hometown team, eventually gave him an opportunity, Goodwin took advantage of it — after spending about six months on a two-way deal, with the Hawks signing him to a two-year NBA contract in February, the Hawks liked his contributions so much they’ve elected to fully guarantee his contract for the 2020-21 season, in a year they’re trying to make the playoffs (he’ll make $1.7 million).

Facing a steep uphill climb to advance in the NBA has made the deal even sweeter for Goodwin, who took rejection and turned it into success, punctuated by energy plays, scrappiness and scoring bursts off the bench for the Hawks. Moving forward, rounding out the Hawks’ trio of point guards behind Trae Young and Rajon Rondo, he wants to inspire other players who find themselves on a similar path.

“It means a lot, especially for the route I’ve taken,” Goodwin said. “I feel like not a lot of people succeed with the type of road I’ve had to go on. … I think that’s the main goal for me is to be an inspiration, not only to two-way guys, because I didn’t start out on a two-way. I had to work for that two-way, I had to grind for that two-way. But for guys that are going to training camp and get cut and go to the G League, it’s not the end of the world. Don’t stop. Don’t take your foot off the gas. Keep going. It’s about perseverance; it’s about staying true to yourself.”

Goodwin played at Norcross High School and transferred from Central Florida to Florida Gulf Coast to finish his college career. After he wasn’t drafted, he had a brief stint with the Grizzlies and raised some eyebrows by performing well in Summer League, but they ultimately waived him in October 2018. He then signed with the Nuggets on Nov. 29 and was waived Dec. 10, signing a two-way contract with Denver six days later, playing sparingly with the parent franchise.

It’s not always about being a superstar, Goodwin learned during his time in the G League. It’s about doing small things extremely well, and those eventually adding up. He didn’t play much in Denver, but he always was talking in practice, always radiating energy.

“A lot of guys have to realize, you have to do the little things,” Goodwin said. “You’re not going to come in and be a LeBron or a Kyrie or whatever. You’ve got to be a role player, you’ve got to come in and pick up full-court, be a dog, be an energy type of player. The Hawks aren’t looking for me to score 30, they’re looking for me to bring energy. And I feel like I do that really well.”

Finally, the Hawks signed him to a two-way deal Aug. 6, 2019. He showed out with the Skyhawks, and, filling in for Trae Young, Goodwin got a few golden opportunities with the Hawks.

At long last, he nabbed enough consistent playing time to flash his abilities in the NBA. For example: with Young out (right ankle sprain) Dec. 30, Goodwin helped the Hawks to a big win in Orlando, 101-93, scoring a career-best 21 points off the bench, to go with six assists, three rebounds, two steals and a block in only 22 minutes.

Getting that two-way deal with the Hawks was when everything took off, and now he gets to build on what he did last season (Goodwin played in 32 games and averaged 6.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 21.1 minutes per game last year), and what he’s done up to this point.

“It’s been a journey so far, it’s been a lot of learning experiences, but I’m extremely proud of myself for where I am right now vs. where I could be, and obviously I just want to keep on getting better, keep building trust with these guys and hopefully be a part of something great in the future,” Goodwin said.

With all the depth the Hawks have added to the backcourt, including Rondo and Kris Dunn, it’ll be a bigger challenge to find playing time this season, but the Hawks keeping him around means they like what he brings off the bench.

As the deadline (Nov. 29) drew closer, Goodwin wasn’t sure what to expect until it passed, meaning his contract would be guaranteed. But he’s not satisfied and wants to take a step forward this season, becoming more consistent, staying high energy, limiting turnovers and growing as a leader for the second unit, whenever possible.

“Once (general manager) Travis (Schlenk) pretty much gave me the green light, said everything was good, ‘We’re holding onto you,’ I was pretty much good at that point,” Goodwin said. “… Once that deadline hit, it was a little bit of weight off my shoulders, but it’s like ‘OK, you’ve still got a long way to go, don’t get too happy or too satisfied.’ I’m not where I want to be yet. I’ve just got to keep building.”

There are a handful of guys Goodwin looks to as an example: Fred VanVleet, who wasn’t drafted and recently signed a four-year, $85 million contract with the Raptors (and helped them to a title in 2019). Torrey Craig, who attended South Carolina Upstate, wasn’t drafted and played overseas for a few years before logging three seasons with Denver and now joining Milwaukee. The 5-foot-9 Isaiah Thomas, who was picked 60th in the draft but went on to have success despite his size (Goodwin stands 6 feet tall).

“It’s harder, it’s way harder for guys like us, to stay in the league,” Goodwin said of guys who go undrafted and have to claw their way up. “To first get in the league, then stay in the league. I’ve got a lot of respect for all those guys, and I want to continue that legacy, the undrafted legacy, just working my way up into lifetime type of money; I just want to feed my family as they’re doing, but it comes with the hard work and dedication that they’ve shown night in and night out. I’ve just got to stay focused and let those guys be my inspiration.”

Now that he’s garnering some success of his own, he wants to inspire others in a similar way.

This coming season is a real opportunity, Goodwin thinks, because he has the chance to be a part of a winning team, on a vastly improved roster.

“Just to be on this team, while they’re trying to make a playoff run, with Travis wanting me to be a part of it means a lot,” Goodwin said. “Because I don’t feel like we’re rebuilding this year. We’re trying to make a run for something special, and just for him to let me be a part of that is amazing, and it just makes me want to go harder, because someone else sees something in you that maybe others don’t.”

He has one more year on his contract with the Hawks, but he’d like to stay home for as long as he can.

“If Atlanta allows me, I want to be here for as long as possible,” Goodwin said. “This is home for me. This is where I feel like I’ve grown the most. As long as they want me here I would definitely want to be here, helping them as they’ve helped me. This is pretty much my family now so I don’t see any other team being home like Atlanta would be.

“Obviously, if it had to go another direction, we’ll have to work in another direction, but for now, and for however long they want me here, I’m here and I’m going to always play my heart out.”