Suns Spots: Hornacek had impact on Kerr’s direction
PHOENIX — Let’s tick off a few boxes on the checklist:
— Former Suns guard.
— Relentlessly cold-blooded foe in any game of H-O-R-S-E that excludes trick shots.
— A rising star in the NBA coaching stable.
— Presides over one of the most exciting teams in the Western Conference.
— Not Jeff Hornacek.
But Steve Kerr, who completed his sixth game as an NBA coach Sunday at US Airways Center, is happy to embrace any comparisons to the Phoenix coach.
"I think Jeff and I are pretty similar personalities," Kerr said before his Golden State Warriors hit sloppy mode and blew the game. "There’s a lot of fire inside, but pretty calm and laid back at the same time.
"I think players appreciate that. You don’t want a huge emotional rollercoaster ride every day, but you gotta have some direction and some fire, so I looked at Jeff, the job he did last year and the success he had and drew inspiration from that. I still watch him and his team with respect. They do a lot of innovative things offensively and they play hard and they’re obviously really well coached."
The well-coached evidence wasn’t very obvious on Sunday for either team, but that’s what can happen during an 82-game season. Looking pragmatically, the Warriors at 5-1 and Suns at 4-3 seem to be in very good, strategic hands.
"I just learned so much just trying to guard him in practice every day," Kerr said referring to his rookie season (1988-89). "Once he went to Utah, he was one of the guys I tried to emulate.
"I wasn’t nearly as good as him, but he inspired me to get better. The guy’s a basketball savant. You feel it as a teammate and playing against him, I knew it was only a matter of time before he got into the coaching ranks."
And it was inevitable that Kerr, a standout at the University of Arizona and serial NBA champion (three in Chicago, two in San Antonio), would make the transition.
"This suits me well," he said of coaching. "I really love to be on the floor with the players. I love being part of the group every day and trying to help our team get better. But to be part of it every single minute is really exciting for me.
"To be honest, I didn’t ever think I’d play in the NBA, so I thought I would coach right out of college. The NBA career kinda happened, didn’t expect it, but it happened. Once I was done playing, my kids were sort of junior-high age and I knew the toll that coaching can take, family-wise … so I chose the TV route to balance out my life, which worked great. Now my kids don’t care where I am every day, so I might as well coach."
The more Hornacek implores his team to play at a faster tempo, the more the tempo remains about the same.
Although the Suns moved up to sixth in possessions per 48 minutes, the 95.7 mark is about where they were last season.
As usual, the issue is walking the ball into the frontcourt after an opponent score. The other transition variables, however, are rising into place.
Phoenix ranks 14th in the league in defensive efficiency (relatively high for this franchise) and ninth in defensive-rebounding efficiency. Those upgrades help generate more transition opportunities.
But after leading the league in fast-break points per game last season (18.7), the statistical defensive improvements haven’t prevented a slip to third (16.6) this season.
Fast-break efficiency is a bit higher, so the trigger that isn’t being pulled seems to be in the players’ overall approach.
"We weren’t getting into our offense quick enough," Hornacek said when asked about the pace of his team’s first five games. "We’re only hitting our first option and then the second option we were breaking it off because the shot clock was at five.
"Even if we call a half-court set, we need to run down the court and get to our spots quicker and start the play at 20 (seconds on the shot clock). If we can start the play at 19 or 20, we have time to run the different options. It’s gotta be that mindset. Sometimes when the other team makes it, makes a shot, we’re thinking ‘ah, we let the guy score.’ You gotta forget about it and always be on the attack. If we can keep that in our heads, we’ll try to do a better job of continuing that, waving and saying, ‘let’s go, let’s go.’
"We’ve got to take it out and go and kind of see if we can get the other teams to play in our pace sometimes."
With only two starters working the fourth quarter of Sunday’s come-from-behind party against the Warriors, you might think chemistry issues are due.
This wasn’t the first time Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green dominated down the stretch of a game with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic spectating. But anyone keeping an eye on the bench could see Bledsoe popping off his seat to lead the cheers and Dragic high-fiving his teammates when Golden State called a string of time outs.
"Those guys were fine with it," Hornacek said. "Again, that will help us as the season goes on — not wearing those guys out. Goran played great, got us going and making 3s and looking like the normal Goran."