Hornacek Wants More Than Athleticism From Prospects

Gerald Green was already a world-class athlete when he came to Phoenix, but it was his undervalued basketball I.Q. that impressed Head Coach Jeff Hornacek.
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by Matt Petersen

Jeff Hornacek appreciates mad hops and world-class speed as much as the next guy. He played for one of the fastest Suns teams in franchise history (1988-92) and, as a coach, is instilling the same athleticism-based style in Phoenix.

Just don’t expect him to get too absorbed with vertical leap results and other such single-test measurements. To Hornacek, those are just tools, a means to the end of playing a complete brand of basketball.

“If a guy’s athletic, does he use it?” he said. “Guys can jump out of the gym, but if they don’t use it at the right time, it’s useless.”

Draft prospects could look Suns swingman Gerald Green as a recent example. When the Suns acquired him a year ago, the 6-8 journeyman had already made his mark with historic dunks and other aerial antics.

They didn’t, however, add up to the kind of quality career Green had hoped to achieve when he entered the draft. Phoenix had seen enough hints to give him another shot.

“If a guy’s athletic, does he use it? Guys can jump out of the gym, but if they don’t use it at the right time, it’s useless.”

— Jeff Hornacek

The more Hornacek saw of Green, the more he liked. Turns out Green could catch fire from the outside. He was also a better passer than advertised, often hitting cutters or making the extra swing pass when defenders were sure he’d decided to shoot.

When Hornacek sees draft prospects whose games similarly rely on physical gifts, he keeps a sharp eye for tell-tale signs that their games will provide as much substance as style.

“For me it’s, ‘do they have knowledge of the game?’” Hornacek said. “Defensively, if they’re on the weak side, what their reads are. To me that gives a good sense of [whether] they understand the game. Same offensively. If they make an extra pass. If they cut.”

Those nuances are more easily discernible in pre-draft workout scrimmages and by watching game film. The athletic tests, after all, only form a tantalizingly imperfect picture.

“I’m sure I wouldn’t have tested well,” Hornacek laughed. “Would John Stockton have tested well? You’re just looking at guys and if they can play the game.”

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