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Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek on why its difficult to play such young kids

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

With all the one-and-dones and two-and-dones declaring for the NBA draft these days, an NBA team's coaching staff has a harder time than ever trying to project whether a prospect can develop into a rotation player early in their career.

Of course, with the very top prospects you play them big minutes because their talent outshines their lack of readiness for the NBA game.

But once you get out of the top 1, 2 or 3 picks, it's not as easy projecting their ability to beat out the current guys on your roster. That's a marked difference from when a 22-year old Hornacek entered the league nearly three decades ago.

"It's a lot different than 20 years ago," he said. "When you were drafted, you were already at that skilled age. You're not all the way there, but you're a good portion of the way there to what your talent's going to be. Coaches can judge (on draft day) if you can jump in there and take someone's spot."

The way he talks about the old days of the NBA - the already-developed rookies, tougher league, All-Stars on every team - you might think he's a crotchety old man, but he's barely into his 50s. I guess that's old enough.

"These kids are so young," he said. "That's the way it is nowadays."

The Suns spent the week looking at older prospects who played all four seasons in the college ranks. This is the way it is every year, with the early workouts focused on older players. The highest-rated prospect to visit this week is 22 year old Jerian Grant, who played out his whole college career at Notre Dame and nearly led them to the NCAA title game in March.

Starting next week or so, the kids will begin getting younger and younger, which represents the majority of draft prospects. More than underclassmen have declared for the draft this spring, which is crazy considering there's only 60 total draft slots available.

Earlier this week, Duke's four-year man Quinn Cook visited the Suns and talked about playing each of his years with a new set of one-and-dones, including this year's Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor.

But that's the new world. You're getting 18-20 year olds who've barely played in a structured system in their lives, and even those systems have been tailored to work with one-and-dones.

That's makes it almost impossible for an NBA team to slot a rotation spot for such youth before even seeing them play in more than a three-on-three workout setting against their peers.

"Now," Hornacek said. "You're wanting to get them some time and early on it's tough to say hey, that guy's going to be in the rotation. But you never know."

Picking 5th, 14th, 18th, 27th and 29th the last two years, the Suns picks have been about getting the best talent rather than focusing on their NBA readiness.

Fans want to see first round picks play, but coaches want them to beat out their competition first. Alex Len was carved a rotation spot this year, his second in the NBA, because of his size and unique skills. But T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis and Archie Goodwin have had a tougher time getting into the regular rotation.

GM Ryan McDonough talked about saturation with too many youngsters. Thanks to the last two drafts, the Suns have at least one 22-and-under player at both wing positions and center. And even then, the other two positions are still manned by young players Eric Bledsoe (25), Brandon Knight (23), Markieff Morris (25) and Marcus Morris (25).

That's why you get the sense the Suns would rather parlay yet another mid-round pick into a player - one either closer to the very top of the draft, or a veteran who can provide leadership to all this youth.

Adding Sam Dekker, for example, to the wing rotation would put him behind T.J. Warren (21), Marcus Morris (25) and P.J. Tucker (29) from the jump. He would have to beat out at least two of those players for regular playing time.

If the Suns are stuck with the pick, taking a young power forward is the only position that makes sense. Right now, Marcus is backing up the four but fits better at the three.

But would any of Trey Lyles, Frank Kaminsky, Bobby Portis, Kevon Looney and Montrezl Harrell beat out Marcus Morris in their rookie year if the Suns are trying to win games? Even if you're not trying to squeeze out wins, you want to see your guys execute the plays that are called, and make the right adjustments when the defense snuffs it. These underdeveloped kids have a hard time with those adjustments.

Hence, the concern over drafting yet another guy at 13 to add to the Suns mix.

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