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Phoenix Suns coaches are teaching "at a level we never had"

With a young team, the most important goal is to develop the young players and veterans alike into better pros. While some coaches focus on strategy, others focus on player development to a higher degree. This season, that's the focus of the Phoenix Suns.


With one of the youngest rosters in the league this season bound to get younger still - with veteran trades and more draft picks on the horizon - player development is absolutely key to rise of the Phoenix Suns in the coming years.

Enter first-time head coach Jeff Hornacek, who said when he was hired in May that he had always envisioned himself a college coach-to-be so that he could teach fundamentals.

"My goal was never to be a coach in the NBA," Hornacek said in May when he was hired. "I always felt I would coach, but I thought that would be on the college level. I felt that what I'd learned over the years would be too much for high school, but the pro guys... they already know everything, so why would I do that?"

After joining the Utah Jazz coaching staff several years ago, he realized that young NBA players didn't know those fundamentals after all, so the transition to NBA coaching became much more viable.

"There's so many pro guys that are one-and-dones," Hornacek said. "Or didn't get the teaching in college on how to play the game, and they don't know a lot of this stuff."

Throughout the summer, I've heard comments that Hornacek and his hand-picked coaching staff - big men coaches Mark West and Kenny Gattison, assistant head coach Jerry Sichting and defensive coordinator Mike Longabardi - were very committed to player development with the young guys who stuck around the arena all summer.

"I think you can do anything with them, you just can't have organized practices," Hornacek said at the beginning of the summer. "You can't make them come, but they're here and they want help they can just ask one of the coaches and that's totally fine to do."

According to reports, rookies Alex Len and Archie Goodwin were around all summer along with young veterans Kendall Marshall, Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris and older players Shannon Brown and P.J. Tucker among others. In August, more players started showing up, including new acquisition Miles Plumlee.

"The coaching staff has been great," new backup center Miles Plumlee said at Media Day. "I feel like I've improved a lot in the past month, so that's been great for me."

He's been working the most with Kenny Gattison and Mark West, the big man coaches. While the Suns have always had a stable of big men coaches in the past, recently Bill Cartwright, Sean Rooks and Ralph Sampson, the feeling is that these new full-time coaches (West was in the Suns front office for a long time) are much more focused on the little things and have been successful getting their points across.

"Improving your offensive package, working on your moves and pivots," Plumlee said of that they've taught him so far. "Across the whole coaching staff, everybody's got a great attention to detail. Even though it's pickup, they're letting us know if we're not guarding ball screens correctly, and what we should be doing. A lot of teams in the summer just let you play."

21-year old second year pro Kendall Marshall had a lot of positives to say about the staff as well.

"I'm excited about it," Marshall said of Hornacek and the staff. "[Hornacek]'s very involved. whether its workouts, or something he sees on the court, he doesn't take a back seat. He's very hands on. I think that's great for us, especially with a younger team. It's a great coaching staff. Everybody is very involved. They come to the table with a very business-like attitude."

Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby has been impressed.

"There is genuine teaching going on at a level we never had," Babby said in an exclusive interview with Bright Side. "Jeff, first and foremost. He has a great way of communicating with the kids.

"He's a teacher. And his staff has been teaching. I come down here and I'm just sort of amazed at the level of teaching that's going on now that didn't exist before. And he's not just paying lip service to it. He genuinely enjoys it."

All coaching staffs have made effort in teaching fundamentals, and to be fair this is only preseason so the Sh%t hasn't hit the fan yet and there's no reason to finger-point. Alvin Gentry's staffs taught fundamentals as well, and so did Lindsey Hunter's staff.

Hornacek could be seen pulling guys aside to explain, during Monday's preseason game, what they did wrong on the immediately completed play or telling them as they ran down the court on defense. He does it in a quiet, calm manner to help get the point across without the use of a hammer.

It remains to be seen if this coaching staff has success on the court, and whether their teachings result in significant positive development of the team.

But at least it's a strong start.

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