When Trae Young went down with a right ankle sprain in a loss to the Bucks Dec. 27, the Hawks were in a tough spot.
Young is obviously the Hawks’ go-to scorer and playmaker, and at that point, the team didn’t have a reliable option behind him — it seemed Cam Reddish or Kevin Huerter would have to slide over to point guard and play out of position.
Enter Brandon Goodwin, the two-way player who made such an impact in Young’s absence that he continues to earn minutes after his return. Filling that evasive backup point guard role, Goodwin has helped the Hawks win two of their last three games and has certainly looked like he belongs, and not just because he’s from nearby Norcross.
“I feel at home,” Goodwin said. “It’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.”
Goodwin, who was named 2013 Georgia 6A Player of the Year after leading Norcross to a state championship, burst onto the scene Dec. 30 in Orlando, helping the Hawks to a 101-93 win with 21 points and six assists. With a few timely buckets in the second quarter, Goodwin kept the game from getting out of hand as Orlando went on a run, and his clutch assist on a John Collins dunk late in the fourth quarter snuffed out the Magic’s hope of a comeback.
Those weren’t his first NBA minutes, as he was on a two-way deal with Denver last season, appearing in 16 games with the Nuggets, averaging 1.4 points and 0.9 assists in 3.6 minutes per game. And he had played sparingly with the Hawks prior to this season (overall, he’s averaging six points, 1.7 assists and 1.7 rebounds in 11.4 minutes per game). It was, however, the first time Goodwin got in a game early and seemed to get over the hump (in the loss Dec. 28 in Chicago, he subbed in midway through the third quarter, with the Hawks already trailing by 22).
“It’s been really special,” Goodwin said. “Been talking about it since I signed. Once I get that opportunity, it’s ‘up’ from there. I’m going to make good decisions. I just needed a team, someone that could trust me and give me that role, to come in and boost the offense and defense when I get in.”
Goodwin, 25, has stayed with the Hawks since Dec. 26. On a two-way deal, he plays the bulk of his minutes with the Hawks’ G League affiliate, the College Park Skyhawks, but has taken advantage of his time in the NBA thus far.
Skyhawks coach Noel Gillespie sees it as his job to help Goodwin to the NBA, so that’s a focus while Goodwin is playing in the G League (he’s averaging 19.1 points and 7.6 assists).
“The best way we can simulate what his role is going to be in the NBA, it might not necessarily be our leading scorer, but giving him the freedom to make play calls on the fly,” Gillespie said. “Giving him the freedom to say ‘Hey, what do you see?’ at halftime, giving him the freedom of what do think is going to be effective defense, end of game, this possession? So kind of trying to empower him and give him as much confidence.”
Goodwin’s philosophy on the court is to keep it simple; play defense, make open shots, set up his teammates, and he’s done that as of late, adding eight points, three assists and four rebounds in a 109-106 loss to the Celtics Friday (the game featuring Young’s return) and adding eight points Saturday in a 116-111 win against the Pacers.
“Me and him, we’ve had plenty of conversations about how our time is coming,” fellow two-way Hawks player Charlie Brown Jr. said. “You never know what’s going to happen in this league. So I’m very happy for him, what he’s doing for this team, what he’s doing for himself and what he’s doing for his family. I have high hopes for him.”
The emergence of Goodwin has been key for the Hawks, as he’s provided quality minutes and the ability to give Young some rest here and there.
One of the Hawks’ other options at point guard, Evan Turner, has struggled to stay healthy. He recently told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe that the team had talked to Turner and Chandler Parsons about being inactive “for the foreseeable future” as Atlanta gives more playing time to younger players. Turner’s playing time has dwindled, appearing in six games in December, adding two points and 2.2 assists per game.
“We’re trying to find that spirit, that spunk, that energy, that toughness from every position,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “Brandon is able to not only give us that, but also relieve Trae. I think Trae played 36 minutes (in a loss to the Celtics Friday) and Brandon gave us a great 13 minutes, and that’s really the balance we’re looking for at every position. Just to be able to sub and feel confident that we’re getting tougher and we’re still executing and we still have scoring options and we’re not missing too much of a beat.”
That’s been the case for the past few games, as Goodwin has stepped up.
And for the “hometown player,” it’s extra special, since his family and friends can easily come watch him play and experience this with him.
“It’s amazing,” Goodwin said. “It’s cool. I’ve got people in Norcross that are behind me. I’ve got my school that’s behind me, Florida Gulf Coast, and it’s just really fun. It’s cool to see social media, everyone’s tagging me in stuff and is behind me. Got that support system right up the street.”
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