New head coach Jeff Hornacek has been saying since the day he was hired that he wants the Phoenix Suns to play at a fast tempo. While the Suns finished last season ranked 11th in pace among 30 teams, Hornacek wants to run even faster than that. He famously told Bright Side's own Jim Coughenour that he wants the Suns to exceed 103 points per game this season.

To do so, the Suns will need to get stops on defense. Without an intimidating post presence to alter shots and grab rebounds for outlet passes on regular basis, the Suns will have to rely on their perimeter players to generate steals in the back court.

"We have some guys on this team - Eric [Bledsoe], Goran [Dragic], Shannon [Brown] - who can play those passing lanes," he said. "Obviously we can't let our guys fall asleep, but we want to still have active hands. That's going to allow us to get some easy buckets."

New point guard Eric Bledsoe fits that mold perfectly. Bledsoe was third in the league in steal percentage at 3.7%, behind only Ricky Rubio and Chris Paul. While any single statistic is flawed, on an apples-to-apples basis it's clear that Eric Bledsoe knows how to take the ball from the opponent.

"[Former Utah Jazz teammate John] Stockton got a lot of steals, but Eric gets them in a different way: with strength," said coach Hornacek of Bledsoe. "He takes the ball out of guys hands. He's very quick so when they try to run a handoff around him he's always got his hand on the ball. Those are steals that really put pressure on a team."

While Bledsoe is great at getting steals with his bulldog on-ball defense, he's also quite clever off the ball as well. Bledsoe is great at baiting the opponent, just like an elite cornerback in football. On the wing, while keeping his eyes on the ballhandler, he can hang off his man just enough to make the ballhandler think his man is open enough to entice the pass, only to step in, slap it away and start a fast break.

His new running mate, Goran Dragic, led the Suns in steals rate last season, followed closely by the Morris brothers and Shannon Brown. Dragic was 28th in the league at 2.5% steals rate last season, despite the team playing passive defense to defend more against dribble penetration than pressuring ball handlers.

With Dragic and Bledsoe leading the charge, the Suns might be close to the league lead in steals this season. They already have 23 steals in 2 preseason games (11.5 per game) after grabbing 8 steals per game last season (15th in the league overall).

"It could be like shooting, like assists," Hornacek said. "Things get contagious. Maybe steals-wise, between him and Goran, that'll do it."

But coach Hornacek warns against too much thief mentality.

"But we have to be a little careful," he warned. "We want them to be aggressive but not get out of position going for the steals. They (Maccabi) still scored 89 point on us."

Whether the Suns take possession by taking it out of bounds, rebounding or stealing, Hornacek wants them to run, run, run.

"The nearest guy to the basket, go ahead and take it out (after makes)," he said. "It's funny when you have two guys who can push the ball, the other guys start running. If you don't they're going to be back on the defensive side all the time. The fast break, it could be P.J. [Tucker], it could be Marcus [Morris], it could be Shannon. If they can get out on one or two dribbles, take it up the middle, make the defense react, then the next guy can go. We feel we have a lot of guys who can handle it and we allow it."

Figuring out which guy will bring the ball up the court will be a challenge all season. Especially, knowing which of Dragic or Bledsoe should get the outlet. Both are point guards, both want to bring the ball up the court and set up the offense. And both will have a natural instinct to put their hands up to ask for it on a rebound or inbound.

"Whoever is closest to the ball, he's gonna get the ball," Dragic said. "The other one has to run. We were just talking in the locker room before the game, Marcin was asking if the point guard wants the ball, who should I pass to? The closest one. That's the deal."

"I think they will figure out what works well," Hornacek said. "I saw a couple times Eric got the outlet pass and Goran took off and got the layup. Good players do that. Good basketball players know how to play with other guys, in terms of what works best. One time it might be Goran, one time it might be Eric."

However it works out, we can only hope the Suns play fast all through the season. In one quarter of basketball - in either of the two preseason games so far - there's already been more fast breaks and dunks than I can remember in any game last season.

Last season's crew was a below-the-rim group - Scola, Gortat, Morris, Dudley, Johnson, etc. - while this group has a lot more athletes who want to run and dunk. A fast pace can only help that cause.

More from Bright Side Of The Sun:

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When: Friday, November 1st @ 5:30 PM

Where: Majerle's Sports Grill in downtown Phoenix - 24 N. 2nd St.  Phoenix, AZ  85004

Who: All members of the BSotS community (and friends, family and random strangers)

What: A get to know you get together.  Drinks and appetizers before the game and pop over to USAC to watch the Suns get crushed by dismantle the Utah Jazz (7:00 PM game time).  The game or Majerle's can be optional.  You're more than welcome to attend one or the other... or both.

Why: Because the members on our site are awesome and I'm looking forward to meeting some of you.

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Please RSVP to me via email ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) as soon as possible. Depending on interest I will want to arrange for reserved group seating at Majerle's.

There are also (shockingly) still a large number of affordable tickets available for the game if people are interested in group seating at the arena.  Looking on TicketsNow (SB Nation's partner - click the tickets link), it shouldn't be a problem for us to cluster together at this time. Chat it up in the comments and/or get with me (via email) and we should be able to organize that.

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On another loosely related note, I'm still planning on attending the season opener with a huge banner welcoming back Channing.  If anyone else is going to the game and wants to help me hoist it just give me a shout.

More from Bright Side Of The Sun:

Phoenix moved to 2-0 in the preseason with a Wednesday night win against the Portland Trail Blazers and there is certainly room for optimism — at least, optimism relative to a team expected to...

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With one of the youngest rosters in the league this season bound to get younger still - with veteran trades and more draft picks on the horizon - player development is absolutely key to rise of the Phoenix Suns in the coming years.

Enter first-time head coach Jeff Hornacek, who said when he was hired in May that he had always envisioned himself a college coach-to-be so that he could teach fundamentals.

"My goal was never to be a coach in the NBA," Hornacek said in May when he was hired. "I always felt I would coach, but I thought that would be on the college level. I felt that what I'd learned over the years would be too much for high school, but the pro guys... they already know everything, so why would I do that?"

After joining the Utah Jazz coaching staff several years ago, he realized that young NBA players didn't know those fundamentals after all, so the transition to NBA coaching became much more viable.

"There's so many pro guys that are one-and-dones," Hornacek said. "Or didn't get the teaching in college on how to play the game, and they don't know a lot of this stuff."

Throughout the summer, I've heard comments that Hornacek and his hand-picked coaching staff - big men coaches Mark West and Kenny Gattison, assistant head coach Jerry Sichting and defensive coordinator Mike Longabardi - were very committed to player development with the young guys who stuck around the arena all summer.

"I think you can do anything with them, you just can't have organized practices," Hornacek said at the beginning of the summer. "You can't make them come, but they're here and they want help they can just ask one of the coaches and that's totally fine to do."

According to reports, rookies Alex Len and Archie Goodwin were around all summer along with young veterans Kendall Marshall, Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris and older players Shannon Brown and P.J. Tucker among others. In August, more players started showing up, including new acquisition Miles Plumlee.

"The coaching staff has been great," new backup center Miles Plumlee said at Media Day. "I feel like I've improved a lot in the past month, so that's been great for me."

He's been working the most with Kenny Gattison and Mark West, the big man coaches. While the Suns have always had a stable of big men coaches in the past, recently Bill Cartwright, Sean Rooks and Ralph Sampson, the feeling is that these new full-time coaches (West was in the Suns front office for a long time) are much more focused on the little things and have been successful getting their points across.

"Improving your offensive package, working on your moves and pivots," Plumlee said of that they've taught him so far. "Across the whole coaching staff, everybody's got a great attention to detail. Even though it's pickup, they're letting us know if we're not guarding ball screens correctly, and what we should be doing. A lot of teams in the summer just let you play."

21-year old second year pro Kendall Marshall had a lot of positives to say about the staff as well.

"I'm excited about it," Marshall said of Hornacek and the staff. "[Hornacek]'s very involved. whether its workouts, or something he sees on the court, he doesn't take a back seat. He's very hands on. I think that's great for us, especially with a younger team. It's a great coaching staff. Everybody is very involved. They come to the table with a very business-like attitude."

Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby has been impressed.

"There is genuine teaching going on at a level we never had," Babby said in an exclusive interview with Bright Side. "Jeff, first and foremost. He has a great way of communicating with the kids.

"He's a teacher. And his staff has been teaching. I come down here and I'm just sort of amazed at the level of teaching that's going on now that didn't exist before. And he's not just paying lip service to it. He genuinely enjoys it."

All coaching staffs have made effort in teaching fundamentals, and to be fair this is only preseason so the Sh%t hasn't hit the fan yet and there's no reason to finger-point. Alvin Gentry's staffs taught fundamentals as well, and so did Lindsey Hunter's staff.

Hornacek could be seen pulling guys aside to explain, during Monday's preseason game, what they did wrong on the immediately completed play or telling them as they ran down the court on defense. He does it in a quiet, calm manner to help get the point across without the use of a hammer.

It remains to be seen if this coaching staff has success on the court, and whether their teachings result in significant positive development of the team.

But at least it's a strong start.

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