Suns Needing Less Reminders to Run
Before the season started, Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek was adamant he wouldn’t be one of those coaches constantly yelling or instructing from the sideline.
In his experience, that kind of effort was usually a waste of time, anyway.
“When I played, I rarely heard the coach,” Hornacek laughed. “It’s kind of a wasted breath if you’re up there yelling and screaming.”
For the most part, the rookie head coach has stuck by his guns, only signaling plays when a point guard actively looks for his input or if the game’s momentum has swung in the other team’s favor.
There are two exceptions.
Luckily for Hornacek, the Suns haven’t needed as much encouragement in those departments lately. Phoenix has won eight of its last 11 games, and guard Goran Dragic credits the fast break as the reason for the team’s recent success.
“I think we’re running more,” Dragic said. “Even when they score, we get the ball quick out of bounds and we just push the ball. We put a lot more pressure on their defense….usually, let’s say third or fourth quarter, they get really tired. That’s our biggest advantage.”
Indeed, the Suns have made great strides in adapting to Hornacek’s uptempo offense. After a mediocre start through the first month of the season, Phoenix has seen its league ranking in Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes) rise each month:
November: 96.50 (14th)
December: 98.14 (7th)
January: 98.12 (6th)
February [10th]: 98.15 (6th)
Hornacek envisions an even faster version of this Suns team before all is said and done, one that rivals the reckless, wrecking ball Sixers (102.47 Pace), but performs more efficiently in the process.
The most encouraging thing for the Suns’ head coach is the multitude of ways his team is igniting the break.
“We get out of the basket quicker,” Hornacek said. “Defense, obviously. If you’re getting stops you can run more. I think some of these games that we’re really running, we’re even running on made baskets. Some games we don’t’ take it out quick enough.”
The first step of the fast break is the most important, Hornacek says. Whether the ball is secured after a basket, on a rebound or by causing a turnover, he wants “go now” to be an instantaneous and instinctual reaction.
“It’s a habit. You’ve got to be able to, right off the bat, run,” he said. “It’s those first couple steps that really help you get going. If you wait one or two steps and then try to go, the defense is usually back.”
Hornacek has resorted to a 14-second shot clock in practices to drive that point home. It serves a double purpose, conditioning his players both mentally and physically to run at all times.
“When we do those quick drills like that, where it’s a 13 or 14-seconds, the guys right away, they run right off the bat ‘cause they know they’ve got to go,” he said.
The repetition is important. Dragic admitted to the same in-game dilemma that Horancek referenced, saying they often can’t hear the coach during live play because of in-arena noise because “we are so zoned in.”
Yet the Suns’ guard recognizes more than anyone on the team how a good fast break can make scoring easier. Dragic ranks fifth in the league in individual fast break points per game (5.4), ranking fifth in the league (not counting the injured Russell Westbrook).
Fast break points, then, account for over 25 percent of Dragic’s per-game scoring (20.1 ppg). In parallel fashion, Phoenix’s league-leading 18.4 fast break points per game account for 17.5 percent of Phoenix’s total points.
“The key moment for us is if we run the ball,” Dragic said. “If we penetrate, if we push the ball, then a lot of good things happen for us.”