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Training Camp Notebook: Suns look to go pedal to the metal with blistering pace

Even after finishing second in total pace last season, the Suns plan to kick it up another notch this time around.

NBA: Phoenix Suns-Media Day Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

FLAGSTAFF, AZ — Welcome to the start of the 2017-2018 season, folks. With training camp this week up in Flagstaff, then an open scrimmage free to the public in Prescott Valley on Friday, the Phoenix Suns rank as one of the least talked about teams right now across the entire NBA landscape. And who can blame them? Coming off of a 24-win season, and making no significant win-now moves outside of the draft, expect much of the same temporarily while this core develops together over time.

With training camp beginning, though, hope springs eternal for this youth-driven roster.

Wednesday’s practice showed off an emphasis on ball movement. Coaches were explaining to them the importance of it, and with each basket in the drill three to six passes at minimum before they could score.

Speaking of said movement, the Suns were blazing down the court at breakneck speeds each possession for all three of their main rotations that usually led to a shot attempt every 10-12 seconds when I hand-timed them. That includes about four to five passes in there, too, with the rebounder pushing the pace immediately upon grabbing the loose ball.

So, general manager Ryan McDonough was right when he said they wanted to push the pace even more at Media Day, which the Suns finished second in anyways last season. And when he told me they wanted to emulate more of a Golden State style of play, this funnels into that category.

I mentioned San Antonio to him, too, with their beautiful offensive rhythm when we spoke on Monday, and he explained why that is so important with how upper echelon teams succeed.

“It’s hard to have an elite offense, which we’re obviously trying to do here over a number of years if one guy dominates the ball that much,” McDonough said. “I guess the exception is probably Houston because they have James Harden, who’s so good at it, so special at it, the way they space the floor. The way they execute pick-and-rolls, shooters spotted up around the arc, that’s unique. I think if you look at San Antonio if you look at Golden State, the ball pings around pretty good so we study those teams and try to steal some things from them. I guess Cleveland is another example. We’ll see how it goes this year but has been a little bit unique given that they had LeBron and Kyrie. Probably two of the best guys that played the ball in their hands in terms of creating for themselves and others, but we want to play more equal opportunity.

The ball sprays around, it’s not as dominated by the guards. I think you saw a minor shift last year when Tyler Ulis played more after the All-Star break. That’s kind of who Tyler is and the way he plays. He moves it around pretty good and I think when guys notice that, they run the floor harder, they cut harder, probably set better screens. They get to spots quicker, because they know if they’re open, he will find them and I think that’s translated to our team, and I hope it has. It certainly did in the pickup games I’ve watched over the last month or so.”

Much like Golden State and San Antonio, swings and weave actions were on display Wednesday. Phoenix even did a team weave drill itself where everyone was working in unison across the court. With as much emphasis on it, and adding in another unique playmaker like Josh Jackson on the wing, Watson is intrigued by the possibilities.

“We {emphasize ball movement} every season, but I think when you have Josh Jackson, it gives you a better dynamic. He can make plays,” Watson said. “Tyler Ulis speaks for itself and Eric Bledsoe, but when you add one more playmaker into the mix, I think it naturally flows.”

With the Suns wanting to get up-and-down even quicker this time around, a lot of the offense will fall on the shoulders of Bledsoe and Ulis, in terms of avoiding easy mistakes. Phoenix lost over double-digit games by 7 points or less last season, and turnovers and silly fouls played a huge role in that. With the youth on this roster, that is not a surprise at the moment, though.

However, as Watson was quick to point out, their analytics show that they turned the ball over less playing at such a fast pace. They still are trying to figure out how that’s the case, but they plan to take full advantage of it in the meantime.

“You know what’s crazy, the faster we play, we turn the ball over the least amount,” Watson told me. “So, those analytics are really weird, right? We turn the ball over more when we slow it down. Strange, right? We’re still trying to figure out that enigma, but as far as everything else, we want them to play a certain way.”

Booker would love for Kobe Bryant to mentor him

After speaking glowingly about Booker himself after dropping 70 points on the Boston Celtics, Kobe Bryant hasn’t really brought him up much. And after Booker referenced his mentality as far as setting no limits, they have not yet crossed paths which surprised me.

“Not really, I mean I’d like to,” Booker said of speaking to Bryant since his 70-point outburst. “I’m sure at some point we’ll come across; I’ll contact him. He hit me via DM with the video of similarities between him that they’re putting out, so that’s pretty cool. Other than that, somebody that I idolized and looked up to. I mean, getting advice from him would be great.”

What you say, Kobe?

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