PHOENIX — Player development. It’s an overused few words that teams use to promote publicly that they’d like to promote players up the food chain from within. The new Phoenix Suns front office didn’t follow the Lance Blanks model of hiring an entire player development staff – the new coaching staff that includes former player development coach Mark West is that staff.
So far, it seems to be paying dividends.
Markieff Morris’ play has often made heads shake. But now he’s on a brief but interesting enough streak. Fun fact courtesy of the Suns’ media relations department: Since Morris was born on Sept. 2, 1989, only two other players have gone on a three-game run by shooting at least 75 percent from the floor while taking 12 or more shot attempts in each game. The other two? Dwight Howard in 2008 and Charles Barkley in 1991.
Head coach Jeff Hornacek echoed Morris’ emphasis on using defense to find himself offensively. On Sunday in Phoenix’s 101-94 win against the New Orleans Pelicans, Morris scored 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go with five rebounds.
“First two years I couldn’t even play without fouling,” Morris said. “Now I just buckled down, watching a lot more film, became a student of the game and I can see why I was picking up dumb fouls. Basically, it’s just doing your work early. You get your work done early on the defensive end, and the game comes to you.”
Maybe it won’t continue. But certainly credit the Suns’ coaching staff for untapping Morris’ talent. And credit Morris for taking the tips from his coaches and turning it into results.
Assistant coach Kenny Gattison has worked with Morris, telling him to “get two or three moves and master them.”
“That’s how you get more efficient in my position,” Morris said.
Morris’ long two-point chucking used to get the best of him. That he is conscious of his efficiency issues was a good sign maybe he has a bigger future than most realize. But that he’s willing to admit his flaws was a sign he’s willing to change for the better.
And he’s not the only one. Center Miles Plumlee put together another fine game, scoring eight points and grabbing 12 rebounds against the Pelicans while blocking five shots. Playing a year with the Indiana Pacers didn’t hurt either.
Hornacek pointed to the little things his players are doing. The youngest Sun of all, Archie Goodwin, earned 16 minutes and scored six points to go with three blocks. It was the detailed pieces of his game that stood out to the Suns coach.
“He created one play where he really sprinted down the sideline and crossed underneath the basket,” Hornacek said. “We’re asking guys to do that, you know, it’s a hard thing to do because the play ends up not being for you.
“He did that I think it opened up for a trailer three right behind him.”
Player development is in the details. The young Suns, unlike a year ago, are learning about the details and it’s paying off.
Hornacek on the Suns allowing Pelicans center Jason Smith to score 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, most of which were off mid-range set shots: “He was making shots. We were kind of living with those and again it’s focusing on Davis in the pick-and-roll. That may be a guy that hedges at him, we wanted our weakside guys to hedge at him, make him think about it. We didn’t want to get into the full rotation where he’s throwing it out to Eric Gordon or Morrow in the corner for a three.”