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5-on-5: How can Jeff Hornacek improve as Suns coach?

Jeff Hornacek’s first season on the job as Phoenix Suns coach went pretty well. The Coach of the Year runner up helped his team to 48 wins, pushed the right buttons with nearly every player on the roster and proved he came in with a system in mind that wasn’t just good looking on paper.

But, in his own words, unless you win the championship, there’s room to get better. Here are the areas where the Valley of the Suns staff thinks Hornacek can improve in 2014-15 and beyond.

Get nitpicky. What is one think you think Jeff Hornacek could improve upon as a head coach?

Michael Schwartz: Hornacek could improve his end-game coaching in clutch situations. The Suns were just 2-9 in games decided by three points or fewer, with one of the wins coming during the second game of the season and the other the aforementioned Minnesota game. Of course, that means Hornacek led Phoenix to many easy wins, but if the Suns had gone just 3-8 or certainly 4-7 in close games, they would have made the playoffs. Surely, some of this is luck and randomness, and Hornacek should improve in these circumstances with a season under his belt.

Dave Dulberg: Part of it was the combination of a new coach and new faces, but Hornacek struggled to really find a go-to guy late in games. Eric Bledsoe’s last-second three against Utah two games into the campaign and Gerald Green’s heave from the corner in Minnesota were the only notable late-game moments Phoenix created in 2013-14.

The Suns won 18.1 percent of contests decided by one possession (Editor’s note: Sources confirm Schwartz and Dulberg came up with this statistic independently), and yet almost everyone had their hand in trying to be a hero; Bledsoe and Green in San Antonio (99-96 loss on Nov. 6), Bledsoe in Portland (90-89 loss on Nov. 13), Channing Frye in overtime against Brooklyn (100-98 loss on Nov. 15), Marcus Morris in Sacramento (107-104 loss on Nov. 19), Green in Detroit (110-108 loss on Jan. 11), Goran Dragic against Houston (115-112 loss on Feb. 23), and Markieff Morris in a pivotal loss to Dallas (101-98 on April 12).

There wasn’t an expectation that even half of those end-of-game attempts should have gone in, but a make here or a make there could have been the difference between eighth and ninth place in the conference. I’m just not sure the first-year coach got any closer to finding his closer.

Kevin Zimmerman: Hornacek could be more willing to have a short leash with some guys. The 2013-14 season of course was an odd one — playing young guys was inevitable and learning through mistakes was part of it. But some simple things down the stretch could have used a little more reactionary substituting. Quick chucking by Markieff Morris seemingly took us back to 2012-13 in the final few games, and Gerald Green and Marcus Morris losing sight of Mike Miller multiple times beyond the arc in a pretty important game against the Grizzlies could have been nipped at the bud earlier. Confidence is big, but there’s a fine line between players having it but also knowing what they can’t do if they’re going to stay on the floor.

Jeff Sanders: One thing that Jeff Hornacek can improve upon as a coach next year is not overusing his bench guys. At times this year, I thought Hornacek left an Ish Smith or a Marcus Morris on the court a tad too long than he should’ve. Yes, sometimes it worked like in the December road game in Denver, but there are other times where it allowed a team back in the game or the Suns to fall behind more. Again, that is very nit-picky and a very small thing in the grand scheme of things.

Ryan Weisert: Hornacek needs to improve his chess game. The key to being a great NBA coach like Gregg Popovich is the ability to employ multiple strategies. Good coaches have a system that they employ universally — think Mike D’Antoni. Great coaches have tactical agility, adapting their strategy not only to their specific personnel but also to counter the moves their opponent is making. Hornacek relied a great deal on going small this year. It’s hard to knock an approach that yielded 48 wins, but going small was really his only move when the Suns were in a pinch, and it left them very vulnerable against bigger teams like the Grizzlies. Hornacek needs to develop more lineups that can work in certain situations. More time and the potential addition of better personnel in the offseason will go a long way to aiding him.

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