While some of the different articles out there have varying opinions on how the Jazz off-season has fared (NBA.com’s David Aldridge, for instance, listed Utah 29th of 30), in many ways, I think the Jazz are having a very nice summer.
The combination of their roster moves (the Draft, trades, free agency), as well as their front office efforts (bringing Jerry Sloan and Karl Malone back into the fold, along with the the major upgrades at EnergySolutions Arena), have many Jazz fans optimistic about the direction of the franchise. And rightfully so.
For me, however, there has been one negative this off-season: Jeff Hornacek is no longer on the bench. Like most, I am genuinely happy that Hornacek has been given the chance at a head coaching gig–especially this early on in this part of his career. It is still bittersweet, though, to see him not with the Utah Jazz.
Hornacek was one of the heroes of my childhood. I grew up during the glory days of John Stockton, Karl Malone, Sloan, and Hornacek. I remember fondly the day Utah made the best deadline deal in team history: acquiring Jeff from the Philadelphia Sixers. He automatically teamed up with #12 and #32 to form a truly great trio.
That said, I think we sometimes underestimate how great and underrated Jeff Hornacek truly was. Fortunately he has been given some well-deserved accolades lately in the media.
ESPN Insider’s Tom Haberstroh ranked the Best Big Threes in modern NBA history, using Kevin Pelton’s wins above replacement value metric (WARP). The Jazz troika finished fourth (behind the threesomes for the Celtics (Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale), Bulls (Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant), and the Spurs (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili). Haberstroh emphasized Hornacek’s contributions to that big three:
A former All-Star and one of the premier shooters of his time, Hornacek probably doesn’t garner the recognition that he deserves. The guy was a beacon of efficiency and nearly joined the 50-40-90 club in field goal percentage, free throw percentage and 3-point percentage, respectively, during his entire run with the Jazz. Easily the best Big Three to never win the title.
My Twitter friend, Curtis Harris of ProHoopsHistory.com, also recently focused on Hornacek with an excellent analysis.
In addition to what these two have written, if you’ll indulge me, here are some reasons why I feel Jeff was great:
- For the longest time, Stockton had to do the bulk of the ball handling and facilitating. That’s natural, you say, since he was the epitome of a point guard. That said, he needed help, so as to help lighten the load. Before Jeff arrived, John’s backcourt partners were Darrell Griffith, Bobby Hansen, Jeff Malone, and even Andy Toolson. They were all good fits, but none could offer the playmaking expertise Hornacek did. This enabled John to occasionally play off the ball, while Jeff would take turns at the helm. Likewise, Jeff was able to play back-up point guard minutes (before Howard Eisley was acquired). In my opinion, all this helped lengthen Stockton’s career.
- We could go on and on about his shooting. Perhaps because of his all-around game and unassuming personality, Hornacek is unfairly not included in discussions about the game’s best shooters. One thing I loved: Hornacek’s shooting was especially vital in the fourth quarters. He not only helped spread the floor, but his free throw shooting in the clutch was essential in icing games.
- He shot between 48-51% each season from the floor, connected on 40%+ from three-point range in each season except one, and never shot lower than 88.2% from the line with the Jazz. Oh, and he led the NBA in free throw percentage with an insane 95.0% clip his final season. That’s 19 of every 20 shots made.
- Jeff and John were one of the best shooting back courts in NBA history. Remarkably underrated.
- Hornacek’s defense was steady. He simply could not match his opponents physically, but he played heady position defense, using crafty moves to stick between his man and the basket. He effectively was able to get into others’ heads. Just ask Jerry Stackhouse. Hornacek also effectively played the passing lanes.
- It was not until Hornacek came to town that the Jazz became an above average road team. That was a thorn in the side of many of those late 80s/early 90s Utah squads. With Jeff, the Jazz became a more potent, more cerebral team. He brought mental toughness that contributed to a big turnaround away from the Delta Center.
- In six and a half seasons, Jeff missed 10 games. An iron man, just like Karl and John.
- Utah’s record with Jeff Hornacek: 350-137 (.719), including the three 60-win seasons in franchise history, four visits to the conference finals, and of course, the two series versus the Bulls.
- The 8-8 three-point night versus Seattle was electric.
Well, there you have it: more reasons why Jeff Hornacek was great. These are just some of the reasons why #14 is hanging in the ESA rafters.
What are your favorite Hornacek moments? Feel free to share in the comments.