When the Suns fired GM Lance Blanks and coach Alvin Genrty, they were viewed as a team who was set to rebuild through the draft, and would reach success through losing. Well, they are 19-11, and are certainly no fluke.
One of the biggest reasons for their success is first-time head coach Jeff Hornacek. Hornacek played 15 seasons in the NBA for three different teams, and like may coaches who played in the league, he has been a huge success. The Suns have won with giving young, talented players some minutes, and their lineups have been unique and successful.
Phoenix traded for Eric Bledsoe in the off-season, and it was assumed that they would trade Goran Dragic because of it. That wasn’t the case, and their two point guard lineup has been a thing of beauty. In an interview with Matt Moore of CBS Sports, Hornacek gives some insight when it comes to his thinking in terms of how he approaches the game, and you can see why they have had success:
“Early on in training camp, we made it an emphasis that when we saw a guy not make the right pass or the extra pass, we’d stop the play. And we’d explain to the guy, if you just make this play or find this guy, then this or that will happen. And in the beginning it was a little bit of a struggle for some of these guys, but when you do things over and over again, it works. That’s probably what makes San Antonio so great, Pop harps on it. The top ten teams in the league all share the ball, they move it quickly.”
“There are times when Goran’s (playing) a point guard,” he says, “and times when Eric’s a point guard. It’s probably falling out that Eric’s probably got the ball 40 percent of the time when they’re on the floor together. But in fast break and in our offense, we swing it from one side to the other. So it may be Eric that starts out with it but it ends up in Goran’s hands. . That’s what we’re trying to accomplish on offense. It’s good for us that they’re both pretty similar in their stats so one guy’s not saying ‘Gosh, I’m not getting the ball enough.’
It isn’t just basic basketball sets and ideals that sets Hornacek apart. In the interview, he admits that they look at stats, and even use advanced metrics when sculpting game plans:
“We’ve given the point guards the shot charts to look that. We’ll tell them in transition, ‘Let the guys get set before you throw it to them.’ It’s been shown that if they’re on the run, the percentage goes way down. So if you know Gerald Green shoots a high percentage from the corner, wait till he gets all the way down there and gets set.”
“I looked at the 14 of 16 playoff teams last year their effective field goal percentage was right at 51 or higher. The two teams that weren’t were Indiana and Memphis who were probably the two best defensive teams in the league. So the ultimate goal is, how do you get to that 51 percent?
The fact that he mentions effective field goal percentage shows how big of a basketball nerd he really is. He mentioned that he wanted them to get out an run before the season–all teams say they want too–and they are currently the eighth fastest offense in the NBA, showing that he has executed his plan well. It seems as if the Suns are on the right track, and they have a brilliant coach at the helm. Go on and read the entire interview, as it is really well done (all of Matt’s work is).
If the season ended today, then Hornacek should win the Coach of the Year. The Suns are certainly going places.
Check out my piece on Suns GM Ryan McDonough here.