FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Push the pace.
It is the one phrase that has been spoken the most thus far here at Phoenix Suns training camp.
“We want to play even faster than we did last year,” forward P.J. Tucker said.
Last year, the Suns ranked eighth in the NBA in pace of play, a statistic used to measure the number of possessions per 48 minutes.
“We want to pick that up. We want to be one, two or three,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “Really try to get the ball out of bounds and go with it. Put pressure on the other teams. We have a deep team so we feel we can do that. And that’s us pushing these guys to get in that type of shape you need to be to do that.”
Holding two-a-day practices at an elevation of 7,000 feet will certainly help.
“We want to tire people out, so to do that we’ve got to be in the best shape in the league,” said Tucker, following yet another conditioning run.
By all accounts, the Suns reported to training camp in great shape, including guard Eric Bledsoe, who stayed away from Phoenix during prolonged contract negotiations. He did not, however, stay away from the gym.
“We said it to him when he left (in April) that we need him to be in better shape so that he can go from the start of the game through the end,” Hornacek said. “He obviously worked on it because he could probably go all day right now.”
Sustaining that pace from the first quarter to the fourth quarter is the goal this season.
“We were fast for maybe half of the game and then I don’t know what happened, but we started playing slow,” guard Goran Dragic said. “I think we can change that, definitely.”
“Jeff actually is pushing us to run even if they score on us,” Dragic explained. “When they miss a shot, we’re good in transition. But, I think the main difference for us this year is going to be if they score we need to get quick the ball out of bounds and try to run on those guys. We didn’t do that last year.”
“We were a little slow in getting down the court (after a made basket),” he said, after looking back at the film in the offseason. “Whoever is right there, just grab (the ball). Grab it and get it to one of the guards. It’s a lot tougher if you have only one guard that pushes it just because the opponent can kind of gear up on that and pick the guy up early and make him hesitate throwing it in. But when you’ve got two guys at the 1 and 2 spot that can both push it, they can’t pick you up and you should be able to get it in to somebody.”
Of course, the Suns now have three guys who can push it.
With the addition of guard Isaiah Thomas “it’s going to be much easier,” Dragic said. “If I’m going to be tired or Eric, Isaiah is going to come in and that pace is going to be higher through the whole game, and I think that’s a good thing.”
No team was better scoring on the run last season than the Suns, who led the league in fastbreak points with 18.7 per game, more than five points better than the year before Hornacek arrived.
The Suns’ overall scoring was good — 105.2 points ranked seventh-best — but that number needs to improve, too.
“We’ve got the guards to do it,” Tucker said. “We just got to be able to run with him. Goran, Eric, Isaiah now, they get that ball, we’re gone. We’re flying. All of our bigs can run. Miles (Plumlee) has been great. It’s just together doing that.”