PHOENIX — Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek conducted his first official practice with the team on Tuesday, but only a handful of the players who will fill out the regular season roster were in attendance.
The session was for the Suns’ Summer League squad, which will play its opening game in Las Vegas on Saturday. But returning players Kendall Marshall, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, and P.J. Tucker will play, in order to try and gain some personal improvement, as well as some experience learning what the expectations will be from their new head coach.
The message from Hornacek during his first practice with the team was made crystal clear.
“He wants us to run,” Marshall said. “He definitely wants us to run. We covered some secondary things — drags, getting the ball to the other side of the floor, making sure we’re getting our bigs the ball. But we definitely want to get up and down the court.”
Phoenix ranked 29 out of 30 teams in points scored per 100 possessions last season, but the pace the team played at ranked them at ninth. Having an uptempo offense is one thing, but being efficient while doing so is something else entirely. The Suns were also near the bottom of the league in turnover ratio, and that’s an area Hornacek knows can come with the territory of pushing the pace if guys aren’t in shape.
“We want to push the ball, and that’s the hard thing,” Hornacek said. “When you’re pushing the ball you have a tendency maybe to have more turnovers. Guys, when they do get tired, that’s when they lose their focus. We’re going to expect that we’ll have some of that. We obviously don’t want the turnovers, but it’s going to happen.”
Hornacek is trying to install some basic offensive principles while also focusing on the conditioning aspect.
“Some of them are used to just walking the ball up the court, or not getting into the post quickly,” Hornacek said. “We’re making our first big down the court get to the post, and they’re so not used to doing it that even when the bigs go in there, the guards aren’t hitting them with the ball, so the guy probably feels like he’s running for nothing. But they’ll get that as the practices go on.”
The Suns have some players, especially at the guard spots, that should be able to get things initiated quickly. Goran Dragic likes to play at a fast pace, and newly-acquired Eric Bledsoe was described as a blur during the postseason by his then-Clippers teammate Chris Paul.
With the uptempo style being part of the message from day one, the Suns should have plenty of time to get the team acclimated to what Hornacek wants to do. The new head coach was pleased with how his players handled it, at least after just one day.
“It was an extremely difficult practice,” he said. “But nobody really dogged it at all. They basically ran for almost two hours, so it was good to see.”