Hornacek Leaves Players Impressed

Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek provides instructions to forward Marcus Morris during Summer League.
If Jeff Hornacek were a movie, he’d be getting four stars for his recent showing at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

That’s the review from the players he coached, anyway. The Suns’ newly minted head coach took his first turn at the helm during the pre-summer league minicamp and 11-day stay in Vegas. The result was a group of players who felt, more than anything, that they were 1) understood, 2) given an opportunity and 3) expected to cash in on that opportunity.

“He’s a very intelligent coach,” said Suns’ second-round pick Alex Oriakhi. “He obviously knows his stuff. I think the main thing is they want us to go out there and compete.”

Such a philosophy enabled Summer League standouts to earn the playing time they craved. Arinze Onuaku’s Vegas debut (seven points, 11 rebounds) earned him more minutes and a bigger role in the later games. Ditto for free agent sharpshooter Dionte Christmas and first-round pick Archie Goodwin.

Goodwin’s experience went hand-in-hand with Hornacek’s coaching style. The 18-year-old rookie was quickly rewarded on good nights (22 points vs. Memphis) and given personal tips and instruction during rough moments.

For Goodwin, the reactions to his mistakes were what impressed him most.

“His demeanor has been what I really like about him,” Goodwin said. “A lot of guys feel like they have to be so intense to get the most out of guys. That’s just not the case…He doesn’t force or put too much pressure to do something. He tells you what he wants you to do and then he expects you to go out there and do it. I really like that about him. He’s a direct coach.”

Hornacek’s directness was witnessed both during breaks in play and live game action. After Goodwin made a contorting, contested layup, Hornacek told him – as Goodwin was running up the court – to look for the running mate on the break.

The next 2-on-1 break saw Goodwin do just that, hitting Dionte Christmas for the easy transition bucket.

Hornacek could also be seen pulling aside players, especially the guards, to give them instruction and advice during stoppages in play. Suns point guard Diante Garrett thrived under the unusual combination of ready instruction and free reign.

“Coach has just given me confidence, just going out there and being aggressive,” Garrett said. “I know I can play basketball. He knows I can play too. He wants me to be aggressive. He knows I’m going to make the right decision and stuff like that. Having a coach that giving you confidence, it helps.”

The confidence comes with expectations, though so far the players have embraced it. Former lottery pick Kendall Marshall appreciated Hornacek’s effort-first mantra, an approach that was made apparent on day one of practices leading up to summer league.

“I’d say [Hornacek is] competitive,” Marshall said. “He’s just that way. Not just him, but the entire staff being here, running practices, putting in our defensive concepts and what we want to do offensively. I think it’s great for us that they’re putting it in now.”