PHOENIX -- October 1990: Phoenix Suns insiders at preseason camp in Flagstaff, Ariz., leap verbal skyscrapers to describe the play of swingman Dan Majerle. "He looks like a monster," one executive said of Majerle's impressive play. Perhaps this would be the season Majerle would start on the path to superstardom.
January 1991: The word "monster" no longer is used. Maybe "hunchback" would be more appropriate. Or a guy in a somewhat scary Halloween mask.
Dan Majerle is still the same valuable all-purpose hustler, the guy who scraps for offensive rebounds and drives to the hoop as well as anyone on the team.
But stardom will have to wait. The 6-foot-6 swingman still is trying to work the bugs out of his offensive game.
"I want to keep building my game up," Majerle said. "But it will be gradual, especially on this team, where there are so many stars already."
With Tom Chambers ailing, Majerle picked up the slack last week with 20 points at Cleveland. But in successive games at Boston, Milwaukee and Minnesota, Majerle only had a combined 20 points on 8-of-30 shooting. On the season, he's averaging 12.5 points on 46 percent shooting, up slightly from last year's figures of 11.1 and 42.
"Majerle needs to get into the flow of the offense," said Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons. Maybe too much was expected of Majerle. Mention the word "superstar" in relation to Majerle, and Fitzsimmons recoils, as if someone had advised him to run a slow-down game.
"Nobody should say that," Fitzsimmons said. "Dan does a nice job. He has times where he has great confidence, then there are times when he loses his confidence.
"The Dan Majerles and Mark Wests of the world get off track sometimes, but I don't worry about them."
To advance as a player, Majerle must develop better shot selection, Fitzsimmons said. He also needs to use better balance on his shots. Instead of crashing into players in hopes of drawing a foul, "I want him to be more of a finesse player," Fitzsimmons said. "Don't do everything so physically. In the NBA, there are too many big guys who will block your shots."
To his advantage, Majerle has an easily identifiable model to follow: teammate Jeff Hornacek, who has developed the ability to get off shots in traffic with either hand while still keeping his balance.
Said Majerle, "That will come with experience, when to use finesse to get around people, instead of hitting people while I'm shooting." Majerle thinks he's rebounding, particularly on the offensive glass, and driving to the basket better than ever. His biggest hurdles have been developing a consistent outside shot and scoring on post-up moves inside.
Now that the Suns have added Xavier McDaniel, Majerle is mostly used at off guard. Fans may be surprised to hear this, but he said he's sometimes hard pressed to stay with the quick, athletic guards on defense. "People are starting to take it right at me," he said. "It's getting difficult. I have a better time against the bigger guys. I try to muscle them."
More noticeably, playing the "two" spot puts more pressure on Majerle to hit the outside shot.
"When I get more confidence, the shot selection will be better. Right now, maybe I'm turning down some shots and getting closer to the basket. Then, I get myself in trouble.
"I have to establish myself as an outside shooter. That will open it up for me to take it to the basket more."