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Practice Notebook: Suns show new promising lineup variation; Jackson ready to bring on the challenge of NBA’s elite

Thursday’s observations from Suns media availability.

NBA: Preseason-Phoenix Suns at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

In Tuesday’s preseason opener in Portland against the Trail Blazers, which the Suns came out as winners in a 114-112 comeback, head coach Earl Watson featured a starting lineup of Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, and Tyson Chandler. With lineups still fluid at this point in time, it’s entirely possible we could see a different edition this time around in Salt Lake City against the Jazz on Friday.

During Thursday’s media availability, again which only lasts a portion of practice, Watson showcased a new variation. The starters, wearing black jerseys, featured a 6-man rotation of Bledsoe, Booker, Jackson, Warren, with Chriss and Len alternating reps at the five spot. At points, Chriss would slide to the four for more rim protection and Jackson would leave the floor.

As far as what Phoenix has planned on offense, we already know they want to take their pace to another level this season, so that starting five could really be a long-term one in my eyes, until February- at least. Having four playmakers on the floor together really opens it up for someone like Chriss, who thrives in transition as a runner basket to basket. This lineup would open more looks for Chriss himself, while also allowing for more spacing for their three wings in Booker, Jackson, and Warren.

In Tuesday’s game, we actually saw this often. Jackson was the first substitution off the bench to replace Chandler, making it an all out track race against the Blazers.

Those five collectively could struggle a ton on the defensive end, but it’s entirely possible they could outrun a lot of lineups throughout this season.

Watson, who has been out front this summer mentioning the future of positionless basketball, brought it up again on Thursday. Putting the best five players on the floor will win teams games, not a center or power forward so to say. The modern evolution of basketball is currently in process, and the Suns want to be out in front of the pack.

"We're still trying to find something. I think we put some guys in different places,” Watson said. “There's no more such thing as traditional power forwards, center, two-guard. The only thing traditional is a point guard, whoever brings it up nowadays, so we want to continue to put guys in different places and see what happens."

Phoenix’s roster has been made flexible enough to experiment with a lot of prospects at multiple spots. As this main core continues their development, they plan to mold them to fit where the NBA is heading, which is away from traditional bigs and stagnant ball movement.

Jackson eagerly awaiting opportunity against NBA’s elite

After a video piece from VICE Sports was released late in September mentioning that Jackson was throwing “verbal shots” at Under Armour teammate Stephen Curry calling him ‘small and unathletic,’ which was simply twisted by them to the point of clickbait, Jackson has been having to duck and dodge ruthless Golden State Warriors fans on social media since.

However, for Jackson, that’s not what I wanted to talk about with him. The No. 4 pick mentioned after he was drafted he compares well to fellow Michigan native Draymond Green. As far as his multi-faceted game and intensity, those are spot-on. When it comes to guarding the likes of Green, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James — names Jackson grew up watching on national TV — the passionate forward won’t ever back away from an on-court challenge.

"Of course, I think anybody would,” Jackson said. “Those are some of the best players in the world right now. I love challenges, and they'll definitely be a challenge."

A player who was brought onto the roster around the same time as Jackson, point guard Mike James, has seen up-close these past few months how special Phoenix’s first-round pick could become.

Much like Jared Dudley told me last week, everyone is taking notice of how much time Jackson actually puts into his craft. After Jackson received accolades from NBA general managers in their annual survey, the sky is the limit in his teammates’ eyes.

"He's good. He's got good IQ. He's got a special ability to just go through the lane and glide to the rim,” James said. “I think he can do a little bit of everything. He's a really great defender, and I think he'll continue to be that. I think he'll be as good as he wants to be. I think as much as he works; I think he'll be as good as he wants to be."

Practice Notes

  • Starters - Bledsoe, Booker, Jackson, Warren, Chriss/Len; Second Unit - Tyler Ulis, Troy Daniels, Derrick Jones Jr., Dragan Bender, Chandler; Alternates (switched in with purple jerseys, sometimes alternated with white): Dudley, Peter Jok, Anthony Bennett, Elijah Millsap
  • There was an emphasis on defending ICE during today’s media viewing. Utah — who utilizes ICE themselves a ton featuring the likes of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors — will be a challenge for Phoenix in that area in terms of size discrepancy down low. Phoenix’s guards will have to fight through screens for the likes of Len and Chriss to avoid foul trouble in this set versus Utah.
  • Bigs were practicing their corner three-pointers during a drill, and even though it was against air, Chriss and Bender looked improved from that spot as far as form goes. Alec Peters, meanwhile, continued to prove he could find some time as a floor spacer. The former Valparaiso Crusader was spraying threes in from not only the corner with consistency but all areas from behind the arc. They ended the drill when they all collectively hit 50.
  • Len had himself a moment during their scrimmage, which the team who scored kept the ball down the other end of the court, where Ulis tried to fake him out near the rim but he gathered himself and swatted it away. However, with that being said, Len only a few possessions later, seem to just space completely out. The second unit ran the same ICE-type set, which was the plan, and Len zoned out and allowed Ulis an open layup while he was left glued to his spot.

The Suns will be in action Friday at Utah, with tipoff slated for 6:00 p.m. MT. Phoenix will then wrap up their preseason slate with three consecutive home games against Utah, Portland, and the Brisbane Bullets (NBL, Australia).

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