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Posts Tagged ‘Phoenix Suns’

In today’s B.S. Report, Grantland’s Bill Simmons said that believes the Celtics should and will make a run at Gordon Hayward. The entire podcast can be heard here, with the Hayward conversation beginning around the 34:10-mark.

Hayward Future

Here is the Hayward discussion between Simmons and Grantland’s Zach Lowe:

Simmons: “The Celtics made a sneaky trade over the weekend – they got rid of Courtney Lee’s contract. It’s now doable for the Celtics to make a run at somebody this summer, with a contract starting at I think – depending on where the cap is – it could be like $10 million, $11 million something like that. I think Gordon Hayward is a target for them and I don’t know if it happens next month before the deadline or it’s something where they just plan on making a giant restricted  offer and hoping Utah doesn’t match or whatever…but I think Gordon Hayward is somebody that they want.”

Lowe: “It wouldn’t surprise me, Hayward is the one restricted guy that I look at and say ‘You might be able to get this guy if you really love him, you’re confident that his sort of decline statistically this season is just because he’s on a horrible team where he has to do too much and he’s young – and you throw a huge offer at him…he’s the one guy of the restricted free agents you might be able to get.”

Simmons: “Hayward is also young, Hayward turns 24 in March and as you said not having a great season, not having a good shooting season his threes went in the tank this year he’s 31% right now, last year he was 42%. Umm, but again he’s on a terrible team, it’s not a well-coached team, I would say going from Ty Corbin to Brad Stevens would be a slight upgrade especially the way Stevens knows how to use him and I think the Celtics could construct an offer and get to, you know starting at $13 million that could probably get to like $58 million for 4 years and that puts Utah in a really interesting spot because…where-where did they – they didn’t even want to pay him what – 4 for $45 (million) as an extension? Something like that or did he want the max?”

Lowe: “I don’t think the figures ever came out, I mean th-they, umm I remember Marc Stein tweeting something that rumors that Hayward’s team demanded the same contract that Paul George got or a max-contract were not true, but I don’t know that the exact numbers ever came out and this year you know at the very least his value is sort of plateauing he’s not playing into – yet – he’s not playing himself into a massive deal.”

Simmons: “If you’re Utah would you consider trading him?”

Lowe: *deep sigh* …”I mean I’d consider anything if I were Utah.”

Simmons: “Right, but let’s say Phoenix said ‘Hey we have a lot of first-round picks, we like Gordon Hayward a lot, would you like some of our first-round picks? Then you could be reeeally bad, now you’re guaranteed – we’re taking only your kind of competent scorer other than Trey Burke off your roster.”

Lowe: “But I’ve already got two Golden State first-round picks, now maybe those aren’t going to end up being very good but one of them is in 2017 so atleast it has the possibility of being very good. I don’t know that – I might think that Utah might think the other way where, where you know ‘I’m just going to hold onto these assets and – including Hayward and try to see maybe down the line if there’s a superstar or a star that becomes available but…it’s hard when you’re Utah because you can’t trade for a superstar that has one or two years left on his contract because you run the risk of, you know he’s just going to go out of town.”

Simmons: “If you were the Celtics, would you say ‘Hey Utah, you know that pick we have – it’s the worst [least favorable] pick we have of Brooklyn or Atlanta – we’ll give you that pick right now for Gordon Hayward. It might get in the lottery. You can have it right now. Straight up. That would be interesting.”

Lowe: “Yeah…”

Simmons: “I think if I’m Utah I do that.”

Lowe: “If I were the Celtics I would do that in a second, I think Utah would demand more and I don’t know what the Celtics have that they’re interested in they’re a Jeff Green team and I don’t know that they are or not.”

Simmons: “Mmm I don’t know how many ‘Jeff Green teams’ there are out there at this point – I really like Gordon Hayward though and I think him and Lance [Stephenson] are the two fascinating [free agent] guys, Melo obviously is interesting and I think Chicago has to be considered – anything Carmelo conversation now Chicago has to be brought up because if they amnesty Boozer they’re on the road to having enough cap space to make him a huge offer.”

For good measure, Simmons and Lowe also briefly touched on Jeff Hornacek.

Simmons: “Phoenix is 20-12, I saw them in person last week and they just knocked my socks off how well-coached they were.”

Simmons on watching the Suns in person: “You would love it…you would have to…have a cigar afterward you would be so excited about Hornacek.”

Lowe: “Well they’re delightful on television and boy that’s the biggest mistake we’ve made in my short time at Grantland is ranking them toward the bottom of our league-pass watch-ability rankings.”

_________________________________________

On October 21, 2013 Marc Stein tweeted that: “Hayward has tons of fans in front offices around the league. Will draw tons of interest next July if he makes it to restricted free agency

That goes in conjuncture with what Peter Vescey tweeted on November 21, 2013: “According to a GM, the Suns will do everything possible this summer to sign Gordon Hayward to an unmatchable offer sheet.

Not counting Boston’s 2014 Draft Pick cap holds, assuming they renounce their rights on Jordan Crawford, don’t pick up Keith Bogan’s 2014-15 salary, and for now slotting Avery Bradley’s $3.2 million qualifying offer in – the Celtics will be around $48 million with 8 players – certainly possessing the wiggle-room to make one additional dump-deal and present Hayward an attractive 8-figure offer.

Although re-signing RFA Eric Bledose will eat up a large chunk of it, the Suns also project to have the cap room (although approximate figures vary due to fluctuating cap holds for 2014 draft picks they may or may not receive, along with a $6.8 million player option Channing Frye possesses).

So what do you think is Gordon Hayward’s free agency value is, and should the Jazz (or any team) meet/exceed it with the belief that a new coach and upgraded supporting cast can rebuild Hayward’s shooting efficiency – or should the Jazz preemptively trade him to get value in return if they think he’ll get an offer they won’t be willing to match?

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Jazz at Suns 11-30-13

Jazz 112, Suns 104

Run It Back

Player of the Game: Trey Burke – 20 points, 4-6 on 3pt’s, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 turnover in 32 minutes.

Late in the 2nd-half, Trey Burke went into “I’m sick of losing and I’m going to make the shots we need to win” mode – which was really fun to see. In the 2nd-half Burke scored 17 points on 5-11 shooting from the field, 4-4 from the foul line and 3-5 from behind the arc.

6:05 3rd-Qtr – On a scramble offensive rebound that Favors kept alive, Phoenix never recovered defensively and left Burke open for a left-corner three.

3:17 3rd-Qtr – Burke stole the ball from Bledsoe in transition then led a 2-on-1 fastbreak that he capped with a gorgeous back-hand drop-off to Jefferson for a layup.

2:52 3rd-Qtr – Phoenix iso’d Morris on Kanter on the left block. Guarding a spotty 3pt-shooter in Bledsoe, Burke cheated down as Morris started to drive middle, forcing him to spin back baseline where he lost the ball out of bounds. Nothing will show in the boxscore besides a Morris TO, but Burke was the catalyst on this defensive stop.

0:33 3rd-Qtr – High screen-roll with Kanter where Bledsoe went under and Burke made him pay with a “pull-up 20-footer from the angle left” as Hot Rod (who was in attendance) would say. A gentle push and a mild arc, the old cowhide globe hits home!

3:55 4th-Qtr – On Burke’s first possession after checking back in, Alec Burks drove baseline and kicked out to Burke for a top-of-the-key three

1:13 4th-Qtr – Burke ran the shotclock down before a high screen-roll with Favors (guarded by Bledsoe/Frye) where Burke went hard left (forcing Frye to show wide) then crossed back right and drained a top-of-the-key three over Bledsoe to seal the deal.

If you didn’t watch Burke at Michigan, he loves to go left off high pick&roll. He’s been extremely well coached in that he comes off hard and wide so if the big shows – he has to show out very wide which spreads the court for Burke and the screener.

How the Jazz Improved Offensively

Short answer: More “Jazzbasketball” – less “Moneyball.”
Rather than predominantly run high screen-roll with the floor spread (a la Houston Rockets without the Rockets’ personnel), the Jazz actually ran a variety of multiple sets throughout the game.

They got Favors and Kanter the ball in the post utilizing cross-screen action. They got Richard Jefferson the ball in the post when he routinely had a 6-inch height advantage on his defender. They crashed the offensive boards.

They also ran a lot more side pick&roll where they cleared out one half of the court entirely – giving them a 20′ x 20′ box to play 2-on-2 where they could see the help coming and pass weakside rather than playing in a 12’x 20′ channel where you have shooters on both sides you have to know the location of. The result was a lot of good things like Alec Burks driving middle off the screen, drawing weakside help and hitting Burke for a catch&shoot three (3:51 2nd-Qtr), Hayward hitting Favors for an and1 layup (2:36 2nd-Qtr), and Richard Jefferson making a wide-open 20-foot rhythm jumper (11:23 3rd-Qtr).

The Jazz also showed how you can create better looks for three on high screen-roll when you don’t obsess about constantly spreading the floor deep.

5:24 4th-Qtr – A Garrett/Favors high screen-roll with RJ in the left corner, Burks on the right-wing and Marvin in the right-corner. As Garrett penetrates, Favors rolls down the lane and Burks crashes in from the right side, leaving Marvin – who drifts from the corner to the wing – wide open for a three. On Friday night Utah would have 3 guys drifting around outside the 3pt-line instead of moving fluidly both outside and inside the arc, stretching and collapsing the Suns’ help defense. Instead of having 1 player to cover two shooters on the weakside, the Suns had zero players covering one shooter. Marvin’s three put Utah ahead 98-91.

The Suns are a free-flowing fast-breaking team – and the Jazz turned it into more grind-it-out game where they’re controlled the tempo – which is what the Jazz should be trying to do on the road.
How can you “grind it out” offensively?
8:58 4th-Qtr
– Jazz run cross-screen to get Kanter to right block, Burks makes solid contact on Morris and Morris grabs Kanter for a foul. That’s how you not only get into the penalty late in quarters, but slow the game down to a walk against a speed team. Next possession they again posted Kanter on Morris via a Garrett screen (Jazzbasketball = guards setting picks for big guys) where Kanter backed him down and converted a jump hook.

The Jazz also realized Channing Frye, the Morris twins and many of the Suns players aren’t strong 1-on-1 low-post defender and got Favors and Kanter the ball on the block. Favors didn’t score a lot in the 2nd-half, but he drew 2 fouls early in the 3rd-quarter – which played an important role as Utah got Phoenix into the penalty with over 4 minutes left in the quarter.

9:11 3rd-Qtr – The Jazz tried to post the 6-7 Jefferson on the left-block on the 6-1 Bledsoe. Bledsoe fronted, so they swung the ball from the wing to the elbow where Marvin made a perfect high-low pass to Jefferson for a layup. That’s the pass that Millsap and Al could never connect on last season. Ironically the only 2 players who could were Kanter and Favors – although they haven’t been able to connect this season.

5:13 1st-Qtr – P.J. Tucker goes on for a dunk and is rejected by Derrick Favors – who is called for a foul on a terrible call by Scott Twardoski as officials continue to treat him as a 4th-year rookie (not surprising considering the Jazz had treated him as a 3-year rookie). What I liked is on the next possession, Favors posted up Plumlee on the left block – establishing position off a Jazzbasketball UCLA set with a shuffle-cut by Garrett then leading to Garrett coming up to the elbow and backscreening for Favors. Hayward threw the ball in and cut through clearing the entire left side of the floor. Favors made a strong move to draw contact but missed the layup, got his own rebound and powered back up against Frye who appeared to also foul him. Favors said something to the official before heading up court. I liked seeing that relentless attitude, because Favors’ has a huge advantage on 2nd and 3rd efforts on his athletic ability alone.

The Jazz controlled the pace of play and still scored 112 points primarily by getting to the line (29 times), owning the paint (46 to 38) and then running on Phoenix miscues (20 pts).

How the Jazz Improved Defensively

Played Smarter, Played Harder:

In the first-half, Utah defended the pick&roll more aggressively. Rather than have their big show out then recover, Utah had Favors or Evans blitz the ball-handler. The results were mixed as Phoenix scored 53 1st-half points, but they did create some transition opportunities for the Jazz.

 11:37 2nd-Qtr – On a Bledsoe/Plumlee high pick&roll – Garrett/Evans force Bledsoe away from the screen and trapped him along the sideline leading to a steal and a 2-on-1 alley-oop from Garrett to Burks.

The Jazz also did a good job in help-defense packing it in the paint. Moneyball fanatics always point to 3pt-FG’s allowed – but the Suns shot 12-27 and lost after shooting 8-25 on Friday night in their win. What was the big difference? Friday night Phoenix scored 52 points in the paint, and only 38 Saturday.

10:05 2nd-Qtr – Dragic/Plumlee high screen-roll vs Garrett/Kanter – the Jazz have Kanter not only show out but slide laterally the entire way on Dragic’s drive which sends him on a dribble-probe baseline behind the basket, where Utah’s defense collapses in the paint. Dragic passes out to Morris 20-feet away who tries to fire it back inside to Plumlee – but because the paint is so congested the Jazz deflect the pass.

5:28 1st-Qtr – On a 2-on-1 Suns break Trey Burke deflected a Bledsoe pass intended for Dragic out-of-bounds, preventing a sure-fire layup. Doesn’t show up in the box score, but that was a 2-point deflection.

Not Playing Bad Defensive Players:
Tonight the Jazz didn’t play bad defensive players who consistently struggle. There was no John Lucas getting posted up by Markieff Morris or Gerald Green on switches, no Brandon Rush struggling in both individual and help situation (and Rush is a pretty good defender at 100% but hasn’t shown he’s close to that point yet).

Good Fortune:
On the Suns’ opening possession Phoenix took advantage of Utah’s pick&roll defense with a smart off-ball cut by P.J. Tucker leading to a wide-open corner three for Gerald Green that missed, and that’s how a lot of things went for the Suns.

10:50 2nd-Qtr – Dragic/Morris high screen-roll where they re-screen and Dragic drives the lane for a 10-foot floater where he misses and then Morris (rolling free down the lane) misses an easy tip. Marvin showed out and recovered (impeding the path of Garrett trying to catch up)which gave Dragic the lane. Nothing really happening here besides the Suns missing a gimme.

2:07 4th-Qtr –The Jazz switch a Dragic/Frye pick&roll resulting in the 6-11 Frye posting the 6-6 Burks up on the right block, and caught a huge break when Dragic makes a horrible entry pass out of bounds. The Jazz did this in Dallas and the Mavs torched Utah with Nowitzki and Blair punished Utah’s guards inside. Of course if you can rely on your opponent making an unforced turnover every time you switch – this is a sound strategy moving forward.

The Jazz also had some good fortune, such as on their first possession of the 4th-Qtr where Burke lobbed an ill-advised alley-oop to Evans that was broken up but deflected right to Kanter for a layup.

Those sort of breaks happen every game both ways, but even though the Suns misfired on the types of opportunities previous Jazz opponents have capitalized on – this season the Jazz will gladly take every one of those breaks they can get.

Alec Burks

Alec Burks quietly played another fantastic game for the Jazz, with 13 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds on 5-9 shooting and just 1 turnover. After being yanked around, benched and then unbenched for the past couple weeks – Burks was able to get on top of the basket in the open-court early and his confidence only rose from that point on.

  1. Nearing end of 1st-Qtr, went 1-on-1 in open court and convered one of his spectacular driving/hanging/contorting layups where he also drew the foul.
  2. Alley-oop dunk from Garrett in transiton.
  3. Side pick&roll, Suns go under – Burks pulls up and drills a three.
  4. Burks drives baseline and is credited with driving/hanging layup on a goaltending violation.
  5. High screen-roll where the Suns drop their big back into the lane, so Burks pulls up for a 15-foot floater that catches rim and drops.

Burks can play out of control and inefficiently at times, but he has a unique skillset that the Jazz need to find ways to take advantage of. Don’t forget on opening night he was the 2nd-best player on the court behind Kevin Durant.

Odds and Ends:

  • In the final 3-minutes of crunchtime (from 4:09 to 1:13), Ty Corbin played Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors together (along with Marvin). Burke had played over 111 minutes, but only 8 came playing with Burks, Hayward and Favors. In last night’s stretch Burke hit two three-pointers and the Jazz held Phoenix to just 3 points.
  • Burke became the first Jazz point guard to score 20 points in a game since Mo Williams at Golden State – 22 games ago.
  • The Jazz currently have 7 players averaging double-figures scoring – which has only been done twice in franchise history and not since 1982-83. The Jazz posted 26 and 30 wins the two other times it’s happened – so it’s not exactly an accomplishment as much as an inclination that you’re playing a lot of different guys on a team not having much success. Right now the double-digit boat holds: Hayward, Kanter, Favors, Burks, Burke, Williams and Jefferson – so we’ll see who falls off first.

The Final Word

The Jazz played a good game on both ends of the court. Equally surprising, Ty Corbin coached a good game (and yes – that felt strange to type). Ty made many smart (to some “common sense” but hey it’s welcomed progress) decisions, rotations and timeouts to manage the flow of the game. I kept expecting to see a Lucas substitution or a bizarre 10-minute stretch where he sits the hot-hand to kill momentum but it never happened.

It’s like when you’re house-training a dog and he goes an entire day without pooping on the carpet. You have the paper towels, Lysol and Febreze on hand and ready but he wags his tail and you let him go outside. Last night, Ty Corbin didn’t poop on the carpet. Now that doesn’t mean he’s fully housetrained or he’s a more expansive dog than the neighbor’s Rottweiler (whom you raised yourself from a newborn puppy but then allowed to go live next door), but for once you could enjoy your night without seeing a mess in your living room.

What the Jazz did is once again show they’re capable of being far better than a 2-14 team with a -10 point-differential and that they are massively underachieving during their numerous wire-to-wire blowout losses. I don’t know if consistent improvement is on the way, but I do know that after three years a dog better be house-trained. Last night was a really fun reprieve that hopefully will be a sign of good things to come, but keep the Lysol and Febreeze nearby. Stink normally won’t disappear forever after just one night.

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Jeff Hornacek vs Tyrone Corbin November 29 2013

Final Score: Suns 112, Jazz 101

Last night Jeff Hornacek returned to Utah to host his own pick&roll-athon, raising awareness for the chronic ailment of awful screen-roll defense sponsored by the Corbin-Lowe foundation.

Run It Back

Best Play: 5:18 3rd-Qtr – This play perfectly illustrates the difference between a brilliant offensive mind and one that hasn’t distinguished itself in multiple seasons as a head coach. As you have probably noticed, the Jazz often run early-offense pick&roll where they pass to their big at the top of the key (often Favors) who takes one dribble toward the wing and hands-off to the SG/SF for a quick side pick&roll.

Well the Suns open up with this same motion with Miles Plumlee handing off to Goran Dragic on the right-wing but following the handoff/screen Plumlee rolls to the basket while Markief Morris then comes up to the top of the key to set a second ball-screen for Dragic. After Plumlee rolls down the lane he circulates over to the left-block receiving a cross-screen from P.J. Tucker along the baseline. Morris sets the second ball-screen for Dragic and as he rolls to the rim, P.J. Tucker (after cross-screening for Plumlee) comes up and sets a back-screen for Morris on the second roll. Dragic swings the ball to Bledsoe on the weakside, giving the passing angle to hit Morris for a layup.

Rested and ready with a fully healthy roster and comparable talent – Utah had every reason to play their best game of the season, but Ty Corbin was playing checkers while Jeff Hornacek played chess.

Best Execution: 2:05 2nd-Qtr –The Suns run Dragic/Frye pick&pop up top with Dragic dribbling left – while simultaneously running cross-screen action with P.J. Tucker backscreening Favors to set up Plumlee on the block. With everyone focused on the screen-roll, Plumlee springs wide open and Dragic hits him for an uncontested 5-foot hook.
Matt Harpring’s reaction: “Too many wide open looks for the Phoenix Suns.”

Best JazzBasketball Play: 6:45 2nd-Qtr – Tied at 42-42, the Suns swung the ball to Markieff Morris on the left wing, then ran a baseline cross-screen with Dragic screening for Plumlee coming to the left-block, which gave Dragic an advantage as his man (Burks) had to help front Plumlee on the cross-screen – and allowed Dragic to pop out off a pindown for an open catch&shoot 16-footer. The Jazz ran this for years with Stockton cross-screening for Malone and popping out to the foul line.

I know some people love the “moneyball” concept – but what many fail to understand is “a 16-footer” is not the same as “an open rhythm catch&shoot 16-footer.” Jazzbasketball has produced top-10 offenses by putting players in these positions for layups, threes and open mid-range jumpers.

While Hornacek’s Suns do play heavily into the 3pt/layup shot selection, if you watched last night’s game you would see they ran several set plays to get open 15-foot jumpers (i.e. open foul line jumper for P.J. Tucker in early 3rd-Qtr).

You don’t think Hayward would to come off a screen for an open catch&shoot 15-footer instead of running a bazillion miles to take a contested long two?
On the other hand, you can shoot 20 threes and make 5 like the Jazz did last night. Silly me, silly Jerry Sloan and silly Phil Johnson. How can you not love the bastardization modernization of “Jazzbasketball?”

The Jazz just aren’t a three-point shooting team, you gotta know who you are – and the Jazz are dead-last in the NBA in three-point shooting – 30% – they’re not that team. Phoenix is that team they (Suns) shoot the ball well and they only allow 33% shooting from other teams…right now the Jazz are playing Phoenix’s style…everything that Phoenix wants to do – they’re doing. The Jazz have taken nothing away from the Phoenix Suns and credit Jeff Hornacek and the way he coaches.” -Matt Harpring during 3rd-qtr.

Jazz Pick&Roll/Suns Defense – 1st-Half

The Jazz started out with a 33-point 1st-quarter and the Suns opened the game having their bigs show out on the pick&roll:
11:41 1st-Qtr – Hayward/Favors high screen-roll, Tucker and Frye both jump out on Hayward who hits Favors rolling down the lane for a dunk.

10:03 1st-Qtr – Burke/Marvin side pick&roll – Suns forced baseline and because Marvin has 3pt-range, Phoenix can’t cover the ground in time and Marvin strokes a three to put Utah up 9-0 and force a Suns timeout.

4:39 1st-Qtr – Hayward/Favors high screen-roll with Favors rolling down lane, drawing the help-defense and kicking out to Marvin for an open corner-three to pull Utah within 22-20.

Jazz Pick&roll/Suns Defense – 2nd-Half

In the 3rd-quarter the Suns’ had some great stretches of screen-roll defense by defending the way alot of great teams do, by pushing the ball-handler away from the screen and funneling him into their length (bigman).

4:20 3rd-Qtr – Hayward/Favors high screen-roll guarded by Tucker/Plumlee. Tucker forces Hayward away from the screen and into a drive funneling him into Plumlee sitting back in the lane. They push Hayward baseline behind the basket and then pick-off his attempted pass out to Marvin for a three – which Markieff Morris turns into a fastbreak layup.

3:54 3rd-Qtr – Burke/Favors high screen-roll guarded by Bledsoe/Plumlee. Again they force Burke to drive away from the screen into Plumlee where they push him underneath the basket. Burke passes out to Marvin for a corner-three but Bledsoe races out to contest. Marvin misses, Dragic rebounds. Because the Jazz are trying so hard to space the floor by playing 4 3pt-shooters, only Favors is positioned beneath the basket to get an offensive rebound.

3:18 3rd-Qtr – Hayward/Favors side pick&roll guarded by Tucker/Plumlee. The Suns force baseline, with Tucker funneling Hayward into Plumlee, and Bledsoe on the weakside drops down to take away Favors diving down the lane. Hayward tries to dribble through Tucker and Plumlee who strip him and force a jumpball.

On all three of these possessions, Suns assistant Mike Longabardi (defensive coordinator and former Boston assistant under Rivers/Thibadeau) was up on his feet shouting instructions.

The Jazz then enjoyed some success clearing out the left side of the floor and running side pick&roll, where Burke was able to use his speed to get wide around Plumlee and drive to the baseline for either a pull-up jumper (1:54 3rd-Qtr) or get to the rim for a layup (1:07 3rd-Qtr).

The Suns and Longabardi adjusted:
0:51 3rd-Qtr – On Phoenix’s next possession following the Burke layup, Markieff Morris went to the line. Between FT’s, Bledsoe walked up and whispered something to him.

0:38 3rd-Qtr – On the next possession Utah runs a Burke/Kanter side pick&roll guarded by Bledsoe/Morris. The Suns “blitz,” aggressively trapping Burke – actually pushing him all the way back to about 40-feet from the basket, where he tries a pass to Kanter who himself is 23-feet from the basket that was deflected out-of-bounds.

0:07 3rd-Qtr – On Utah’s final possession of the quarter, they ran a Burke/Kanter high screen-roll guarded by Goodwin/Morris. On the Root Sports broadcast, you can hear Mike Longabardi on the sideline shouting “Switch it! Switch it!” – which makes sense because with less than 7-seconds left – there’s not enough time to get burned with a guard stuck on a big in the post. Sound concept but in this case, Morris was late switching out and Burke pulled up and stuck a three as a bewildered Longabardi turned his back to the court following the basket.

Nevertheless, the Suns’ coaching staff adjusted, communicated, made sound tactical decsions and continued to adjust.

During the 4th-quarter the Phoenix bench was fun to watch as the Suns lost some aggression. Hornacek and Longabardi looked like they were living and dying on many defensive possessions. After quick shots, Hornacek was urging his players to pass and move the ball while Longabardi was shouting instructions defensively. When they got stops Longabardi was applauding, when they allowed an easy basket both Hornacek and Longabardi would swing their fist in frustration. It reminded me of how Jerry Sloan in the 90’s and early 2000’s would slide up and down the sideline trying to urge his team to D-up and where to help from, then tell his team to push-it in transition with a sideways circular motion (not always to fastbreak but to set the tempo by getting into their offense early).

Jazz Pick&Roll Defense – 1st-Half

The Jazz again started the game having their bigs show out on the pick&roll. On the first pass they had some success but the Suns would re-screen which completely annihilated Utah’s defense, and before long it was business as usual on the initial screen.

8:10 1st-Qtr – Dragic/Frye high screen-roll, Marvin steps out and Burke goes under, but Phoenix re-screens the opposite direction so Marvin (stepping out) and Burke (going under) are both caught top-side and Frye pins both of them for Dragic to drive to the basket for a layup and a foul.

5:37 2nd-Qtr – The Suns came out of a timeout leading 44-43 and cleared the right-side of the court for a Bledsoe/Plumlee pick&roll. Bledsoe drove the lane, forcing Favors to help before lofting a pass to Plumlee rolling in on the right side for a layup.

4:41 2nd-Qtr – Richard Jefferson missed a contested corner-three and Phoenix pushed it hard in transition, resulting in several mismatches including Jeremy Evans guarding Eric Bledsoe. With a big guy on him, the Suns ran high screen-roll where Evans got caught up on the screen and Bledsoe pulled up for a wide-open three to put Phoenix ahead 51-43.

3:25 2nd-Qtr – Suns ran a Dragic/Plumlee screen-roll with Favors showing out hard, forcing Evans to rotate to Plumlee which left Channing Frye wide open for a three to put Phoenix up 54-45.

Jazz Pick&Roll Defense – 2nd-Half

At halftime, Sidney Lowe was asked how the Jazz are supposed to defend the high pick&roll:

Well if it’s a shooter, supposed-we’re supposed to uh-jump out, one-out – the guard goes over and then under and then get in front of him so he can’t get into the paint, and then the uh-the big guy that’s on the screener’s supposed to get back to his man quickly so they don’t get a chance to swing it and get a shot.”

We just have to fire through quicker, uh, our aggression and our speed – I think their speed is bothering us a lot right now.”

Here’s how Utah’s screen-roll defense started the second-half:
11:37 3rd-Qtr – Dragic/Plumlee high screen-roll guarded by Burke/Favors. Burke goes over, Favors shows out, Dragic immediately fires a bounce pass to Plumlee rolling to the basket where he catches and finishes a 6-foot jump hook over Richard Jefferson. 64-51 Suns.

9:07 3rd-Qtr – Dragic/Plumlee high screen-roll guarded by Burke/Favors. Burke goes over, Favors shows out – Plumlee rolls and Marvin drops down to pick him up – leaving Frye wide-open for a top-of-the-key three. Splash.

7:07 3rd-Qtr – A double high-screen roll that the I detailed the Pelicans used to torch Utah 11/20/13, starting with Dragic handling, Plumlee rolling and Frye popping. Favors has to show out to the left-wing and then race back 18-feet to Frye at the top-of-the-circle for a catch&shoot three that puts Phoenix up 76-62.

6:30 3rd-Qtr – Suns run same exact play – this time Favors shows out and Marvin follows Fry to 3pt-line – so Dragic hits Plumlee rolling open to the rim where Hayward fouls him on a layup attempt at the rim.

3:34 3rd-Qtr – Bledsoe/Morris high screen-roll guarded by Hayward and Marvin. The Jazz instantly  switch – so Hayward is left guarding the 6-10 245-pound Morris, who goes down and punishes him on the left-block – shooting a turn-around over Hayward for a 84-69 Suns lead.

Andris Biedrins
David Locke is funny. The irrelevant Andris Biedrins absurdly saw playing time over Rudy Gobert, so Locke tweets out: “First defensive possession and Andris Biedrins may have had the best big man rotation of the night. It was noticeable.”

Now in the real world we all live in, here were Biedrins’ first three possessions:
3:46 4th-Qtr – Biedrins, guarding Frye on the perimeter, is called for a kicked-ball violation with Frye trying to hit Dragic on a backcut. No rotation involved whatsoever.

3:35 4th-Qtr – Dragic/Frye screen-roll guarded by Burks/Biedrins. Biedrins steps out on Dragic impeding his dribble while Frye rolls down the lane – which forces Jeremy Evans’ defensive rotation. As a result, Bledsoe was left open for a wide-open catch&shoot three that he missed.

3:01 4th-Qtr –Dragic/Frye high screen-roll again guarded by Burks/Biedrins. Biedrins shows out leaving Frye open on the right wing for a wide-open pick&pop three – that again missed.

Biedrins did nothing better than Favors or Marvin had the entire night – the only difference is the Suns happened to miss open-threes while he was on the court. Either Locke isn’t aware that the bigs’ responsibility is to show and recover (very possible but also inexcusable considering he was the one who interviewed Sidney Lowe at halftime) or he’s just embellishing the play in an effort to support the credibility of Tyrone Corbin’s decision-making. Either scenario is plausible, but both are wrong. Don’t believe me go back and watch – the tape doesn’t lie.

Also important to note – Biedrins (or Favors and Marvin) aren’t doing anything blatantly wrong – it just speaks to the big-picture problems with Utah’s screen-roll strategy that Sidney Lowe outlined. They truly expect their bigs to show out hard 20-feet from the basket and then race back and recover on the screener before he has a chance to score or pass. Unless you have a frontcourt of a Scottie Pippen, LeBron James and Dennis Rodman, you’re going to encounter problems doing this consistently.

As a result, the Jazz are still ending up in a ton of 4-on-3 disadvantages where not only are they scrambling in confusion to find the open man, but their bigman is now no longer protecting the rim but rather trying to get back into the play 20-feet from the basket. The Heat might have the most success defending this way, but last I checked the Jazz didn’t have a defensive personnel crew matching LeBron, Wade, Battier, Haslem and Birdman.

The Final Word

The Jazz should have beaten the Suns last night, after 3 days off, fully healthy, with a decent-sized crowd (even though the “GreenOut” fizzled) and a Suns team with comparable 1-12 talent and depth. The difference is the Suns have a style and system that they are using to maximize their ability with a bunch of players now filling it up who (with the exception of Bledsoe) nobody else really wanted.

You can argue Utah’s problems rest entirely on the inability of their young players to make plays, but consider this: Utah again started Marvin Williams in place of Enes Kanter – who has been much-maligned for his defensive ineffectiveness. Against Phoenix, Marvin had a D-Rating of 132, while Kanter and Favors both posted D-Ratings of 133. Logically, shouldn’t Marvin Williams’ mobility and athleticism advantage over Kanter result in better rotations and “jump-outs” defending the pick&roll.

Utah may not have many stalwarts defensively, but their problems all start with the coaching staff. And when you consider that, how can you properly evaluate anyone’s performance this season? How can you judge Favors’ 1.4 blocks per game when he’s jumping out on point guards then racing 20-feet back to find his own man? Conversely, the Suns start both Goran Dragic and Channing Frye – yet are 12th in the NBA in Defensive Rating. You don’t think coaching plays a role in that?

The Jazz have some things working in their favor. Burke played one of his better games offensively, Marvin Williams continues to produce in a leading role, Burks had a productive game, Evans continues to play well and Utah still possesses more frontcourt talent than Phoenix. In a rematch 24 hours later, the Jazz should be able to compete with the Suns. Unfortunately, “should” doesn’t mean much this season. After all Jeff Hornacek should be coaching the Jazz, but he’s not.

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Jazz at Suns 11-1-13

Run It Back

Final Score: Suns 87, Jazz 84.
Player of the Game: Gordon Hayward. The extensionless Hayward responded from a rough season-opener with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. He also made Utah’s biggest shot of the night, calmly draining a pull-up three over P.J. Tuckerto tie the game at 84-84 with 22.5 seconds remaining.

The one cause for concern is an apparent dropoff in Hayward’s play in the 2nd-half that was evident against OKC as well as a preseason game against the Clippers in L.A.

Gordon Hayward – Statistics By Half
Half Pts Reb FG Att FT Att 3pt Att Ast TO Min
1st 14 6 5 12 2 2 2 3 4 2 20
2nd 4 4 1 5 1 2 1 2 4 1 20
Total 18 10 6 17 3 4 3 5 8 3 39
FG% 35% FT% 75% 3pt% 60%

While the Suns did a better job in the 2nd-half cutting off Hayward’s driving lanes and daring him to kick it to John Lucas for three, Hayward was still a playmaker, making back-to-back nice feeds to Favors and Burks for layups midway through the 4th.

Hayward’s cold 2nd-half shooting was again somewhat offset by Alec Burks’ 2nd-half play. After scoring 19 in the 2nd-half against OKC, Burks scored 12 of his 15 in the final two-quarters.

Alec Burks – Statistics By Half
Half Pts Reb FG Att FT Att 3pt Att Ast TO Min
1st 3 1 1 2 1 5 0 0 0 0 10
2nd 12 1 5 7 2 2 0 1 1 3 17
Total 15 2 6 9 3 7 0 1 1 3 27
FG% 67% FT% 43% 3pt% 0%

Ultimately you’d like to have both Hayward and Burks playing well and producing at the same time, but in the first two games they’ve atleast been able to balance each other out and keep the Jazz in games.

Best Shot: 0:00.7 4th-Qtr  – With the score tied at 84, Eric Bledsoe dribbled out the clock then pulled up for the game-winning three over Gordon Hayward.

Best Play: 5:01 3rd-Qtr – On high screen-roll between Hayward and Favors, Hayward hit Favors rolling down the lane. Two Suns rotated to Favors who dropped off a deft pass to Kanter on the baseline for the layup.

Favors has always been an underrated stationary passer, but that pick&roll pass on the move going to the basket has been a large source of turnovers for him. This season he’s shown good improvement in that area.

Worst Play: 11:18-3rd-Qtr – On a side screen-roll between John Lucas and Favors, not only did Lucas commit the cardinal sin and pick up his dribble 30-feet from the basket, he then travelled all over the place (uncalled but he changed pivot feet 3 times) and then made an awful pass to Favors that Channing Frye intercepted.

Best Move: 7:33 2nd-Qtr – With the score tied at 54-54, Derrick Favors flashed into the lane, took 2 dribbles left then spun back over Morris for an 8-foot right-hand hook. The drop-step spin-move on Channing Frye in the 4th-qtr was flashier, but if Favors can make that jump hook consistently he’ll be far more than a $47 million player.

Best Dunk: Probably something Gerald Green did in warm-ups.

Best Block: 4:48 2nd-Qtr – Off a drive and dish, Enes Kanter went up for a two-hand dunk but Miles Plumlee met him with a two-hand rejection. Fantastic block by Plumlee but also like how Kanter went strong.

Best Pass: 0:38 3rd-QTR – Hayward tried to post-up on Dragic, who was fronting him aggressively. Lucas threw a dangerous lob pass over the top with Frye on his way over from the weakside. Hayward made a terrific “tip pass” to Favors who the Suns surrounded resulting in a kick-out to a wide-open Richard Jefferson for three. Jefferson missed but that was Utah’s best perimeter look of the night.

Worst Pass: 10:12 3rd-Qtr – From the left-block, Enes Kanter fired a hook pass that sailed over Jefferson’s head and into the front row again hitting a woman in a light-blue shirt. Second game in a row Kanter has targeted women in the front row in the 3rd-qtr. Beware front row ladies!

Best Execution: 4:48 1st-Qtr – Guarded by P.J. Tucker, Hayward curled off a weakside stagger screen, caught the  ball on the move from 20-feet and laid the ball in down the lane. Two impressive aspects on this play.
1.) On the stagger screen, both Favors & Kanter got a piece of Tucker which created the step Hayward gained on him.
2.) While Hayward was going up, Miles Plumlee reached in and partially stripped the basketball but Gordon had the strength to finish. One of the keys to Hayward becoming a go-to scorer is possessing that functional playing strength where he can finish through contact at the rim.

Best Jazzbasketball Play: 10:48 3rd-Qtr – Utah ran their UCLA-shuffle cut then got into their weakside options. After cutting through, Lucas back-screened for Hayward which drew the help-defense of 3 Suns. With Phoenix out of position, Lucas spotted up off a Kanter pindown screen for an open three that he drained to give the Jazz a 6-point lead.

Stat of the Game: Offensive rebounds galore! The Jazz shot just 36.5% but grabbed 41% of their available offensive rebounds. The Suns shot just 37.3% but grabbed 31% of available offensive rebounds. Kanter led the way with 10 offensive rebounds. (In case you’re wondering, the Jazz record for off-rebs in a game is 13, shared by Rich Kelley, Adrian Dantley and Greg Ostertag)

Veteran Move of the Game: 0:47 1st-Qtr – Out of horns with Tinsley dribbling at the top of the key, Hayward started on the baseline by faking coming out the right-side behind a Gobert screen and then reversing back behind a Harris screen. Already trailing, Morris shot the gap and Hayward faded to the baseline where Tinsley hit him for an open 20-footer that he knocked down.

Fantastic job by Hayward setting his man up and reading the coverage. Kyle Korver would’ve been proud.

Get Better of the Game: Holding for one shot at the end of the 1st-half, Hayward settled for a contested step-back 22-footer with 5 seconds still on the clock. The long miss sparked a Suns fastbreak that they failed to convert but it was reminiscent of John Lucas’ poor shot selection Wednesday that gave OKC a buzzer-beating three.

The Jazz need to clean this up because it’s one thing not to score, it’s another to not score and give your opponent free points going into halftime. This is where the Jazz really miss having an competent point guard and where Trey Burke’s return could work wonders.

Quote of the Game: Harpring: “They (Phoenix) just decided to get rid of [Gortat’s] contract, play the young guy and [Plumlee’s] playing well.”
Boler: “Both of these franchises, kind of a carbon copy of one another.”
Yes, because that’s exactly how Jazz dealt with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap the past two seasons.

Tanking: The Jazz started the 2nd-quarter with a lineup of Jamaal Tinsley, Ian Clark, Alec Burks, Mike Harris and Rudy Gobert. The Suns had Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin, Marcus Morris, Markief Morris and Alex Len. The Suns and Jazz aren’t tanking because their coaches and players are giving maximum effort to win, but the front office who assembled these rosters certainly haven’t placed a high premium on winning this season.

Odds and Ends

  • Lost amid the ugly Dragic/Tucker mid-air collision was Jefferson aggressively boxing out Plumlee going for the loose ball. Plumlee ended up on the scorer’s table and Hornacek let the nearest official know he thought it should’ve been a foul.
  • The Jazz went 0-2 on technical free throws with Lucas and Ian Clark both missing. Against the Thunder the Jazz were 3-4 on technicals.
  • Jamaal Tinsley might still be getting back into “game shape” but his “bench shape” is rounding into form – as twice in the first-half Tinsley sprang out of his seat to yell at a Suns player taking a corner-three in front of the Jazz bench.
  • Enes Kanter was called for a moving screen on Utah’s first possession of the 3rd-qtr. Although illegal screens are a “point of emphasis,” Kanter was 100% stationary and the official reacted to the defender (Bledsoe) stumbling rather than the screen which was textbook.
  • The Suns had the ball with 55-seconds left and Hornacek called for a high-screen roll (the Suns’ call is a circular spinning motion). Under Jerry Sloan (play labeled “C”) the Jazz would run the clock down to 10-seconds when the big would come up and screen. In this case, Markieff Morris was extremely late, not setting the screen until just 5-seconds remained. Hornacek started motioning, then stomped his feet, then simply spun around and walked away in bewilderment.
  • When Hayward missed the first free throw with 35.5 seconds remaining and Utah down 3, Ty Corbin frustratingly threw his hands up. Understandable reaction but certainly not the greatest head coach body language that’s ever been displayed.
  • Interesting Jazz strategy down by just 2 with 35.5 seconds left and an 11.5 second differential between game-clock and shotclock. The Jazz opted to intentionally foul. It worked out well when Bledsoe split the FT’s and Hayward tied the game on a three. Not something you normally see with points hard to come by in an 83-81 game, but I give Corbin credit for a gamble that paid off.

Core-4

Tonight, the “Core-4” of Burks, Favors, Hayward and Kanter simply didn’t receive any help. The Core-4 scored 80% of Utah’s points, grabbed 77% of the rebounds, dished 70% of the assists and accounted for 84% of the FG’s despite playing in 59% of all available minutes. Even more alarming, while the Core-4 shot 26/60 (43%), the rest of the team shot just 6/25 (24%).

Stump The Truck

While discussing the Morris twins (Marcus and Markieff), Matt Harpring asked “Has their ever been a twin to play on the same team on the court at the same time?”

The answer is “yes” and actually carries a Phoenix Sun theme. Former Hoosiers’ twins Dick and Tom Van Arsdale played the 1976-77 season together in Phoenix. Both were 6-5 wings and both played 12 seasons in the NBA. Dick finished his career with 15,079 points and while Tom scored 14,232. After his selection in the 1968 expansion draft, Dick was labeled the “original Sun.”

Final Word

Some post-game coaching comments:

  • “We just didn’t have it tonight. We didn’t have the energy, they were out-hustling us to balls.”
  • “We’re a young team we shouldn’t be tired.”
  • “This one was uglier…I didn’t think we played well at all tonight. We didn’t attack, I thought we were hesitant, we didn’t box out, if we did box out we didn’t box out hard enough because they got 22 offensive rebounds, we told those guys you gotta put your hard hats on.”

Those comments all came from the winning coach who is now 2-0 in his brief head coaching career. Great for Jeff Hornacek and great for Phoenix. Losing to a very poor Suns team missing their second-best player certainly isn’t great for Utah, but outside the “Core-4” there was very little production.

Back at it tonight versus Houston. Phoenix was a team Utah should have beaten. The Rockets aren’t. The last time the Rockets visited SLC, they beat the Jazz by 45 so the Jazz won’t have to go far to improve on that performance. Similar to the OKC game, Utah needs to try and hang within 10 through 3-quarters then hope they can put a run together in the 4th-qtr. There’s a chance the Jazz shock the league and pull the upset, but so far the league’s surprises seem to be happening in Phoenix and Philadelphia.

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Jeff Hornacek Utah's Favorite Sun

What has former Jazz great and assistant coach Jeff Hornacek been up to in the 19 weeks since becoming head coach of the Phoenix Suns? Here’s a rundown:

Hornacek’s Coaching Style

JazzBasketball was all over this one immediately after official word broke that Hornacek was leaving. The following day at his introductory press conference, Hornacek confirmed that he envisioned his coaching style resembling a blend between longtime Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons and Jazz Hall-of-Famer Jerry Sloan.

From the AP:
His coaching style, he said, would be heavily influenced by his days playing for Cotton Fitzsimmons in Phoenix and Jerry Sloan in Utah.

“Hopefully, I can take Jerry’s toughness, Cotton’s enthusiasm and confidence-building and blend them together,” Hornacek said, “and become a great coach like some of the great coaches that have been here in the past.'”

Hornacek’s Offense

1. In a 1-on-1 interview with Grandland’s Zach Lowe, Hornacek clearly values the effectiveness of the pick&roll in today’s NBA:
When you look at the game today, with the rule changes — that’s why everyone is going to some sort of pick-and-roll. The rules are, you can’t touch that guy with your hands. It’s not like the old days, where you could hand check.”

2. It’s also clear Hornacek wants to push the tempo:
“If you can get it in the post, or penetrate and kick out, and get that early shot in the first seven seconds, or maybe eight seconds of the shot clock … Statistics say in the first eight seconds, you shoot a much higher percentage. A lot of it depends on what kind of players you have. I knew they had [Goran] Dragic, who can fly up and down the court. And obviously now, with Eric Bledsoe, those two guys jell perfectly.”

3. That answer and several others also demonstarte Hornacek plans to utilize advanced basketball metrics when making strategic decisions:
We gotta get rid of that long 2. I’m not opposed to the middle jumper, in that 15- or 16-foot range. I think all but two teams that were in the playoffs, their effective field goal percentages were above 51 percent. If you can shoot 15-footers and shoot 52 percent, OK, you’re beating the average. You can’t totally discount those shots.”

Hornacek’s Defense

While it’s impossible to judge until outcomes and fundamentals are apparent, it’s obvious Hornacek is committed to improving a Suns’ defense that ranked 23rd in points allowed per possession and 25th in FG% allowed.

1. One of Hornacek’s first moves was to hire former Celtics’ assistant Mike Longabardi. Longabardi arrived in Boston in 2007-08 (same year as KG and Ray Allen) and served as a pseudo assistant-to-the-assistant – helping lead-assistant Tom Thibodeau install his vaunted defense that would bring Boston the 2008 title and earn Thibs the head coaching job of the Chicago Bulls in 2010.

In 2011, Longabardi was promoted to the bench in Thibodeau’s old position (Lawrence Frank held it in 2010-11) running the Celtics’ defense as the de-facto defensive coordinator and Boston finished the 2012-13 season ranked 6th in defensive efficiency. Longabardi’s defensive philosophy mirrors that of Thibodeau.

From Fox Sports Arizona:
We want to protect the paint at all costs. Then we have to get out to the 3-point line and take that away … especially from the corner. Then you want to defend without fouling and finish with the rebound.”

2. From Hornacek’s Grantland interview, Jeff also revealed the similarities he shares with both Longabardi and Thibodeau defensively.

Lowe: You guys hired Mike Longabardi from Boston. I assume this means you’ll run the Tom Thibodeau defense that swept the league — trying to keep all pick-and-rolls toward the sideline, on one side of the floor, and dropping your big men back into help position instead of having them trap up high like Miami does?

Hornacek: I always like to keep the ball on the side. When I played point guard, and I got stuck on the side, it was always more difficult for me than when I could get around and into the middle of the court — where I could see everything. There are so many more things that become available when you get into the middle. That’s what I like to do, and we hired Mike, who has run Boston’s defense the last three years. We’ve looked at a lot of things they do, I’ve watched them, and I see a lot of things I like to do.

From a Jazz-perspective, the teams that cause Utah’s vaunted pick&roll (whether it be Stockton&Malone or Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer) the most problems were Phil Jackson teams (Bulls/Lakers) that forced side screen-roll baseline.

3. Hornacek then echoed defensive rhetoric reminiscent of all old-school NBA head coaches, particularly the one he played for in Utah.
From azcentral.com:
A lot of it is desire,” Hornacek said. “You can take a guy that’s not very good defensively, maybe like I was, but if you played hard enough and smart enough, you can make up for things. We have some great athletes on this team. Once we get them with the desire to play that defense, to do it the right way and do it in terms of our concepts, that’s an advantage we can use.”

Patience vs Toughness

In the early stages of Suns’ training camp, azcentral.com reports Hornacek has proven to be a patient and calming influence but also was not immune from forcefully getting his point across:
-“The first thing I’ve seen is he’s really patient,” Suns center Marcin Gortat said. “He understands that we have a really young group of guys, and it’s going to take time to learn everything.”

“One of the only questions came from the compliment that Hornacek is one of the nicer people in NBA circles. Could he be firm and jump on a team’s case?

It happened twice in the first three days of camp, the last coming at the end of a scrimmage when a team trailing by three allowed the final seconds to run out rather than fouling. The team lined up to run.

“I know my voice,” said Hornacek, whose demeanor belies his competitiveness. “I’m already hoarse.'”

________________________________________________________________

Hornacek Photobomb________________________________________________________________

Hornacek on John Stockton vs Eric Bledsoe

On Tuesday, Hornacek was asked to compare Eric Bledsoe’s penchant for racking up steals with that of former Hall-of-Fame teammate John Stockton – the NBA’s all-time leader.

Matt Petersen, Suns.com: “Stockton used to get a lot of steals because he knew how the plays were going. He had great positioning,” Hornacek said. “Eric gets them in a different way. He gets it with strength. He takes the ball out of guys’ hands.

Early Results

1. Hornacek coached the Suns in the Las Vegas Summer League – a rarity for NBA head coaches. Playing the up-tempo style Hornacek desires, Phoenix averaged 93.2 points per game (in 40-minute games) and advanced to the championship game. Although they ultimately fell to Golden State, Suns players walked away impressed with their new coach.

2. The Suns won their first preseason game 130-89 over a completely overmatched Maccabi Bazan Haifa team (the Israeli League champion). According to Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic, Hornacek reportedly is not one to remain seated throughout a game. They faced stiffer competition last night yet still won 104-98 in Portland in a game where they scored 83 points and led by 14 after three quarters.

3. As the AP reports, Hornacek has also drawn high praise from virtually all members of the Suns.

-“Jeff’s awesome,” Suns forward P.J. Tucker said. “I can easily say he’s one of my favorite coaches already and I haven’t even played for him in a game'”

-“He teaches. He’s a teaching coach,” Dragic said, “especially with this group. We have young guys and I think he can teach a lot to them. He’s got a lot of experience and even if you make a mistake, he just tells you the right way to do it and after that he just lets you play.

“He’s a great motivator. When you have a bad practice he tries to lift you up. He’s supportive and I think that means a lot, especially for the young players
.”

At Least This Didn’t Happen

I’m on record for hoping that Hornacek could one day (aka this season) be head coach of the Utah Jazz. As upsetting as his departure was, I can take some solace in the relief that this also didn’t happen.

Hornacek and Burke

Not sure I could’ve handled that.

How Good Will Phoenix Be?

With both a new head coach and GM (Ryan McDonough) the Suns are in ground-zero rebuilding mode right now. They have two nice building blocks in Bledsoe (acquired in a 3-team deal in exchange for Jared Dudley) at PG, and #5-overall pick Alex Len at center (Len had stress-fracture surgery on both ankles over the summer and is working back into shape).

After that, everything else looks suspect at-best and ugly at-worst. Hornacek is dealing with a roster where his top-12 currently consist of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat, Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown, Archie Goodwin, Gerald Green, Marcus Morris, Channing Frye and Miles Plumlee. Even with Len working back into the mix – that’s still only 15-20-win material right there.

The Suns project to be bad this year, but the goal is for Hornacek to begin to instilling his coaching identity on the young players he has to work with. The hope is that the Suns can foster some internal growth this season and then potentially add a few pieces via free agency to gradually work their way back to the top half of the Western Conference.

It’s a multi-season rebuilding process in Phoenix and while Suns are still at the starting gate – as of now they appear to have the right man leading them.

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Jeff Hornacek - Utah Jazz

Yesterday, Jazz assistant coach Jeff Hornacek agreed in principle on a 3-year deal (with a 4th-year team option) to become head coach of the Phoenix Suns. For someone with less than 3 full seasons of NBA bench experience, to advance from a second assistant to head coach of the team that drafted him in the city his family resides is nothing short of a “dream job.” Hornacek will certainly have his hands full, taking on a 25-win Suns team already with over $42 million on the books for 2013-14, but he has all the makings to be a successful head coach.

While it’s impossible to say precisely what his coaching identity will be – during Hornacek’s 14-year NBA career his playing style closely reflected a convergence of the philosophies of his two most distinguished coaches: Cotton Fizsimmons and Jerry Sloan. Hornacek brought some of Cotton’s up-tempo, run&gun style to the Jazz with a blend of pull-up jumpers in transition and the ability to improvise and make some of the most difficult off-balance floaters ever seen. He blended that perfectly into Jerry’s structured offensive system which in-turn flourished with his mixture of shooting, passing and ability to make plays off the dribble. More importantly, as a player Hornacek had grit, determination (former walk-on at Iowa State, second-round draft pick) and an understated competitive fire. Like all coach’s sons, Hornacek was a cerebral player who carved out what Bob Costas labeled in his final season “a near Hall-of-Fame career” – with guile, intelligence, and skill development.

Hornacek is also a very good communicator with an extremely personable demeanor who has endeared himself well to everyone he’s worked with, from players…

AK47 on Horny

…to owners. Former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo (who drafted Jeff) remarked “He was like a son in some respects.” Colangelo wasn’t the only owner Jeff Hornacek made a strong impression on. A common question the late Larry Miller often received was if he thought John Stockton would ever coach. Larry would say that while he didn’t foresee NBA-level coaching in John (or Karl’s) future, he did envision it in Jeff’s and that he hoped it would one day be with the Jazz. While it’s nice that Jeff got to start his coaching career in Utah, it does sting a little that he couldn’t receive his ultimate job at the place that has believed in his coaching ability the most.

Larry was far from the only member of the Utah Jazz who envisioned Hornacek being a good coach. In 2004, Hornacek interviewed for the Celtics head position despite having no NBA coaching experience whatsoever.
In 2008 – although he had only a year’s work as a part-time shooting instructor on his coaching resume – Hornacek interviewed for both the Suns’ and Bulls’ positions. Despite that lack of exposure, a current Jazz media personality along with a former teammate of Jeff’s both felt he was a strong enough candidate to be a great coach and land the Phoenix job in 2008 (audio link below):

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In sports – things normally don’t turn out as you hoped or expected. The ideal scenario I had envisioned starting in 2007 when Hornacek began working for the Jazz was always for Jeff to learn under the greatest coach in Jazz history and eventually take over when said legend would decide to leave on his own terms. While Jerry Sloan’s appalling departure is ultimately what made Hornacek a fixture on the Jazz bench – the vision remained with a new head coach who failed to impress as Jeff began to inspire and forge strong bonds with the players who hopefully will represent the Jazz’s future.

That’s what makes losing Jeff Hornacek hurt the most for the Jazz. Utah isn’t simply losing a bright assistant coach – they’re losing a bright assistant coach who many hoped would be the answer to the coaching woes that have plagued the organization since Jerry Sloan stepped down. It’s one thing to lose something you don’t really need. It’s another to lose something that has the potential to be exactly what you are lacking.

While the questions will linger about Jeff Hornacek’s experience (he has just 176 games of NBA bench experience – all of which came sitting to the right of a head coach Bill Simmons called “wildly incompetent“), he will now have the opportunity to gain that and he’ll get it starting with a poor team. Just like his early days at Iowa State and after being drafted, there will be low expectations. He’ll have a chance to grow as a coach, in a city that he loves with a fanbase that respects him. It’s a tremendous opportunity for Hornacek. It’s only a shame this chance isn’t coming in the place where many felt he would be a great coach all along.

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Happy Memorial Day everyone, and a special thanks to those who have and are serving!

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