Jeff Hornacek as a head coach of the Phoenix Suns sounded like a good idea, but we didn’t really know how things would turn out until we saw him in action. During last night’s 130-89 throttling of Maccabi Haifa, Hornacek showed a lot of poise, patience and the willingness to talk it out with his remarkably young team. It certainly looks like Hornacek is the perfect fit for what will be a learning experience for everyone involved.
Of the 18 players on the roster for the preseason opener, only two had seven years of experience in the NBA. This is a very young team with a lot of learning and growing to do. Luckily, everyone in the organization understands that the rebuild is going to be a long, arduous process. As a first-time NBA head coach, it might seem like that could be a bad spot for Hornacek. That’s simply not the case.
HE’S NOT LINDSEY HUNTER
During the 2012-13 season, Lindsey Hunter was given the interim head coach position and he too was a first-timer. Hunter started with a strike because the players simply weren’t in favor of letting Alvin Gentry go. The style of Hunter continued to weigh on the young team and by the end of the season, it was commonplace to see players scattered around during timeouts, as opposed to in the huddle, engaged in the game at hand.
Hunter’s style of screaming, slamming the scorer’s table and giving bad body language was a horrible fit for a young and inexperienced team without a lot of confidence. When they made mistakes, they needed coaching and mentoring. Instead, they got screaming, head-shaking and inconsistent minutes.
Hornacek’s style is much more subdued and a lot more confident. That’s not to say he wasn’t coaching up his team, because he was. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic made note of it as well.
— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) October 8, 2013
The major difference in that conversation was that Hornacek was speaking to Markieff, not yelling at him. Hornacek was coaching him up, but showing him a level of respect.
KNOWING YOUR PLAYERS
Something that Hunter failed at was knowing his players. The 15 guys on the active roster have 15 different personalities and need to be treated 15 different ways. Morris responded to being treated that way, whereas last year, he was much less responsive to the yelling and brow-beating that happened.
Part of the danger in having such a young team is that they can be very volatile. Can Archie Goodwin be yelled at or will he feel belittled and begin to sulk? Does Alex Len react positively to gentle prods or does he need to have his butt kicked to get moving? These are all things that make Hornacek the man for this job. He seems to know and he seems to continuously study his players so that he can make the best decisions.
Think about his playing career and how different John Stockton and Karl Malone are as people and players. Hornacek has been honing his skills in dealing with different types of people his whole career.
Hornacek played under some legendary coaches. Johnny Orr, Cotton Fitzsimmons and of course Jerry Sloan all had influences on Hornacek and his style. In any profession, it’s a great move to study those who have been more successful. Hornacek has taken parts of all of them to mix with his own style to become what he is today.
In addition to that, Hornacek played on some terrific Utah Jazz teams with Malone and Stockton. He played in 140 career playoff games between Phoenix and Utah and played a total of 1,077 regular season games when we include his short stop in Philadelphia. It’s not like he was a bum, either. He averaged 20.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.0 steals per game in 1991-12 for the Suns.
He gains instant credibility with players because of his pedigree. There’s just something about coaches who have never played that makes it tough for some players to respect them. It’s unfair, but it’s the truth.
He’s got the pedigree, he’s had mentoring from some terrific coaches and he’s the kind of person who can succeed in this situation. The combination of his experiences as a coach with his experiences as a player make him the perfect fit for the young Suns.