Lessons to be Learned as Summer League Begins

Kendall Marshall takes the ball up the court during the 2012 Las Vegas Summer League.

Forget the idea that the summer league gets players ready for the regular season. Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek spent the past week preparing his team for the summer league, making the team’s trip to Vegas a test of basketball I.Q. as much as on-court skills.

“We’ve thrown a lot of things at them,” Hornacek admitted. “Trying to get some plays and some early offense stuff so they something to run. We went from one thing to another and they get it pretty well. Defensively, principles they’re maybe not used to here in the past, they’re really following and trying and working hard. I think everyone’s been pretty happy with the effort.”

The combination of mental and physical demands should help Hornacek and his staff identify exactly what they have on their 12-man team in Las Vegas, where the Suns will play a minimum five games in a 22-team pool of similarly young and eager teams.

Alex Oriakhi, the Suns’ recent second-round pick out of Missouri, found out quickly how much the NBA in general and Hornacek in particular demand even more from players who, like himself, were the cream of the crop in college.

“It’s real intense. There’s a lot of details,” Oriakhi said. “They throw things at you fast. You just have to really, you know, pick up things as fast as you can. I think it’s more thinking than anything. You really have to listen to what the coaches say offensively and defensively. You really have to have a high IQ to play at this level because they throw things at you really fast.”

Young veterans highlight summer league team

Phoenix has the benefit of several one and two-year veterans on this year’s summer squad, including Markieff and Marcus Morris, Kendall Marshall and Diante Garrett. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker is also suiting up for the summer Suns, forming a quintet that hopes to accelerate the team-wide acclimation to a new system under a new head coach.

As for the new head coach himself, Hornacek expects the summer veterans to set an on-court example for the rest of the roster, saying they could do so in several ways.

“You expect them to improve,” Hornacek said of the non-rookies on the team. “You expect them to go out there and kind of be your main guys…but being a main guy doesn’t mean that you don’t do all the little things that help all the other guys.”

Versatility, options available for Suns to use

The summer league provides ample opportunity for NBA coaches to test players and lineups, and the Suns have plenty to work with in that department.

“We can do different things,” Hornacek said. “You have Markieff and Marcus. You can play [Markieff] at the five and the four and Marcus can play at the four or the three. We’ve got Kendall at the one, but Archie (Goodwin) at the two that can play some one. Diante can play two or one. We’ve got (Chris) Babb who can shoot the ball. We’ve just got a lot of possibilities.”

After playing point guard all week in summer league practices, Marshall appreciates the variety of talent he and the other point guards have at their disposal.

“I’m excited about playing with a lot of guys,” Marshall said. “Obviously the rookies that are going to be with us for another year. Archie, Oriakhi, they’ve played well and they’re getting better every practice. Arinze Onuaku, he’s throwing his weight around down low. (Thomas) Abercrombie can really, really shoot the ball.”

At the end of the day, Hornacek and his staff’s biggest emphasis will be effort, consistent and unrelenting.

“You want to play well, but really, what we want to see is the effort,” Hornacek said. “If they go down there and we don’t win, yeah, we won’t be happy about it. But if they’re doing the things we’re trying to instill and get set with these guys, we’ll be happy.”