New-Look Suns Backcourt Not So New To Hornacek

Together, the backcourt of Kevin Johnson and Jeff Hornacek helped the Suns to the Western Conference Finals.
(NBAE Photos)
By: Brad G. Faye,
Posted: June 27, 2013

Following Wednesday’s acquisition of point guard Eric Bledsoe, a lot of questions have centered around what the impact of the move will be on playmaker Goran Dragic. As Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek revealed to following the transaction, the plan is for last year’s starting point guard and team leader in assists to make the transition to shooting guard.

“As a coach, you have to figure out the best way to use the guys you have,” Hornacek said. “With us, it obviously wouldn’t make sense for us to be a slow team. We’re going to utilize the strength of our guys which means getting up and down the court.”

Hornacek knows a thing or two about getting up and down the court. For just over four seasons, he found himself doing precisely that alongside future Suns legend Kevin Johnson during one of the most successful stints in franchise history. But as Hornacek admits, the accommodations he was asked to make following the acquisition of Johnson did not come without some apprehension.

“At the time that Kevin came in, I was the team’s starting point guard,” Hornacek explained. “Obviously it ended up working out in the long run, but I think in the beginning some of the perception was that Kevin was coming off the bench in Cleveland and was now coming in to be a starter here in Phoenix without having necessarily earned it yet.”

Beginning his rookie season with the Cavaliers as the backup to veteran Mark Price, and without even one full NBA season under his belt, it’s understandable why “KJ” had to prove he could play like the All-Star he would ultimately become in the Valley. Fortunately, it would not take the future Ring of Honor member long to gain the respect of his fellow Suns who he would soon help lead to the Western Conference Finals. That need to prove something is not one that Hornacek sees as being an issue with Bledsoe, however, which is one of the key differences he sees in Phoenix’s current backcourt situation compared to that of the Johnson-Hornacek era.

“I think that even though there are similarities in terms of (Bledsoe) being a guy who came off the bench with Los Angeles, that this is a different case,” Hornacek said. “With Eric, everybody already knows that he’s a great player.”

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Coming off the bench last season behind Chris Paul, Bledsoe averaged 8.5 points, 3.1 assists, three rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. In 12 starts, those numbers climbed to 14.2 points, 5.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals per outing. Meanwhile, Dragic – who played the two-guard position at times last season while playing alongside Kendall Marshall – has already proven himself capable of sharing the backcourt with another playmaker. With Dragic and Marshall on the floor together throughout much of last season’s second half, “The Dragon” played some of the best basketball of his career. The Slovenian closed out the 2012-13 campaign by posting nine double-digit scoring efforts in his last nine games played, including two outings of at least 30 points.

As far as the comparisons to that Hornacek-Johnson backcourt of yesteryear, Hornacek points to another difference in how the current dynamic duo of Bledsoe and Dragic will be utilized while on the court with one another.

Eric Bledsoe Highlights | Caron Butler Highlights | Butler Photos | Bledsoe Photos

“When (Kevin Johnson) and I played together, Kevin was pretty much the one handling the ball,” Hornacek explained. “I could handle it too which helped, but we were primarily looking for Kevin to run the break. I think with Eric and Goran, we have two guys who are fully capable of handling those responsibilities and we don’t need to designate either one as ‘the guy.’ To me, that’s the best way to run a fastbreak, get the ball out to whoever that first guy is and go.”

Two decades after committing to a change in hopes it would lead to greater success for his team, Hornacek is now asking one of his best player’s to make a similar commitment. And although he may now be on the other side of the table, Suns fans are optimistic that Hornacek will again serve as proof that following a little bit of sacrifice, one will oftentimes bear witness to positive results.