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Film Room: Igor Kokoskov’s Best Trait

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A film-based look at Phoenix Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov’s ability to create a system that fits personnel.

NBA: Summer League-Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When the Phoenix Suns hired Igor Kokoskov it was clear what stood out most with Kokoskov compared to other candidates.

Suns owner, Robert Sarver stated, “Some of the coaches we talked to were very set on certain systems. What Igor said is - a big part of my system is around my players”.

With a young versatile roster full of moving parts, it was essential to find a coach that creates a system to fit personnel rather than stick to a system regardless of fit.

Kokoskov showed his ability to create a system that puts his players in the best possible position to succeed leading Slovenia to the Eurobasket Championship.

In addition his ability to design sets with multiple options leads to better flow, movement and spacing.

As current New Orleans Pelicans head coach said about Kokoskov, “A lot of his O things are a continuity thing. If this doesn’t work, then you go to this, then you go to this”.

These are some of the sets and actions Kokoskov ran for Slovenia at Eurobasket.

‘One’ - ‘Weak’ action

For Slovenia, Kokoskov ran some common NBA actions, including this ‘Motion Weak’ set where the guard initiates with a strong-side hand-off and shallows cut to weak side into a wing PnR.

This is a common action many NBA teams run including the Warriors and Spurs, however, Kokoskov uses the 4 (Randolph) in a dribble hand-off.

The Warriors run very similar action. The difference is the 4 passes to the guard as oppose to the dribble hand-off.

The Warriors minor difference in their action create better spacing and allows them to flow into a secondary option after the ball denial.

In this case Gordon plays it well initially but the Warriors design with the single ball-screen allows them to flow into the high post split action.

If you look back at the first clip - France had great ball denial - stagnating the entire action. If Kokoskov adjusted the set to more of a single ball-screen as oppose to dribble hand-off they would have been able to flow into a better secondary option.

Warriors empty the strong side with just Green and Curry in the action. Curry gets denied initially but Thompson clearing out the strong-side allows Curry to get an open look.

Many teams across the NBA run the action similar to the Warriors. This is the Spurs running similar action with the empty strong-side into a wing PnR.

Kokoskov elects to run the action resembling how it is commonly ran in Europe. It should be interesting to see how it translates to the NBA level in the regular season.

This is the first look at the set in Summer League.

‘Spurs Motion Weak’

The last two seasons the Suns ran more common ‘Spurs Motion Weak’ action. This is the same strong side hand-off where the lead guard shallow cuts to the weak side and the action is commonly ran with simultaneous flex action under the basket.

The Spurs have been able to stick to a system and find specific players that fit the system. If you study how the Spurs run this action they always have the right players that fit whether it is a wide body big or a pure shooter coming off the pin-down.

The Suns coaching staff has had limited options running this set with younger players that are not ready or veteran players that are not above average shooters such as Alex Len and Eric Bledsoe.

Despite the roster shortcomings, I though the coaching staff did well to try and find a way to make it work. The Suns ran a good wrinkle with a double-drag screen to get the big switched onto a smaller guard.

The player put in the position to take advantage of the switch - Marquese Chriss - a 19 year old rookie who was clearly not ready.

Later in the game the Suns come back to the same set, this time Bledsoe elects to take the three - Bledsoe is a below league average left wing three point shooter.

The coaching staff kept giving Chriss an opportunity in this set. Early on his second year Chriss gets another chance to score in the same set against the Clippers - same result.

You have to respect a coaching staff trying to give a young player a chance but it clearly had an adverse effect on winning more games. I thought they could have to tried to flip the action and get him a touch on the right block instead.

Looking at Chriss’ shotchart for the 2017-2018 season he was above league average from the right side of the floor.

stats.nba.com

Later in the same game the Suns try Alex Len in the same set - giving him a chance - but again the limited roster options shows in this set.

Is it on the player for not taking advantage of the opportunity or on the coaching staff for putting a player who is not ready in that position? You can argue both sides.

I should point out inn that same game the coaching staff did try running this designed counter set where they get Booker setting the second drag screen but slip for three.

Ideally, one element that I’ve touched on previously is the synergistic passing triangle concept where Player A passes to Player B with the purpose to hit Player C in a triangle pattern. Studying the offenses of successful NBA teams they are able to apply this concept to common NBA actions.

This is the Spurs applying the concept to this set. After the strong side hand-off and guard shallow cut to the weak side they pass to the big at the elbow with the purpose to hit Aldridge. Len gets caught backdoor.

As I pointed out with the details of this set Kokoskov can improve in some areas, however, his best trait will always be putting players in the right position to succeed.

Igor Kokoskov ‘15’

This is a set Kokoskov ran for Slovenia creating a post touch for Anthony Randolph, putting his best post scorer in the best possible position to succeed.

The action also has great secondary options after the cross-screen with the two-guard coming off a pin-down up top.

In summer league Kokoskov ran very similar action wanting to get Deandre Ayton a post touch.

On this possession the Mavericks elect to double Ayton and switch, which creates mismatches across the court. If you look at the first clip with Slovenia, Doncic comes off a pin-down after the post touch.

The secondary option is key for the Suns having a great offensive big in Ayton coupled with shooters such as Booker, Bridges and Reed. The Summer Suns struggled executing this concept of the set.

The Kings switch the action as well here but without the double on Ayton - they front - and force a ball reversal. After setting the cross-screen Bridges needs to come off the middle pindown, that’s three every time with a shooter of his quality.

In the first game against the Mavs it was the same issue. Defensively, it’s interesting, if you switch the first dribble hand-off from Peters - switch everything else - and double Ayton you leave Jackson open for three.

I still think Peters should try and set the pindown for Bridges similar to how Slovenia ran it. Regardless, it’s a great action to run with multiple options, looking forward to seeing how they put the pieces to the puzzle together.

This is better execution and timing here with Reed coming off the pindown.

‘High-Low’

Continuing on the theme of how Kokoskov is able to put his bigs in the best possible position, this is a High Low action he ran for Gasper Vidmar - a wide body big with limited post game.

Utilizing his wide body and ability to create space, Kokoskov does well putting him in the best possible position to succeed with this set.

I love the initial set design action to clear the center of the floor for the high low entry pass.

Like many of the other sets, the Summer Suns have understandably struggled with execution.

Ayton can’t seal Bagley in the post and leads to a turn over in the first clip. The second clip is better execution. One of the best elements of this set is giving Ayton a post touch from the center of the floor allows him have more options if the double comes.

To illustrate further, Jack Cooley is a wide body big with limited post game, Kokoskov fits him perfectly into this set.

If you look across the NBA perennial playoff teams such as the Spurs, Rockets and Jazz have created an organizational system that they adhere to and find players that fit into the system.

For example, with the Jazz the last five years you see the influx of international talent under Denis Lindsey and Quin Snyder who both come from the Spurs organization. The Rockets bringing in shooters every year through the draft and free agency.

The Suns are in the right direction with the hiring of Coach Kokoskov - they will be able create a system that fits the current personnel - but will they be able to create an organizational system that sustains for the long-term?