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Suns Igor Kokoskov not equivocating on Ayton and Booker roles

Phoenix Suns coach won’t get cute with roles for his franchise cornerstones.

NBA: Phoenix Suns-Press Conference Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With all this talk about new Phoenix Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov being innovative and fresh with his outlook on NBA offense, he is dead set on a few things.

Ayton at power forward? No.

Firstly, that rookie Deandre Ayton will never be played as a power forward the way he was at University of Arizona last year.

Even Ayton has said as recently as the end of the U of A season that he liked being a power forward at times, and that he appreciated the opportunity to guard on the perimeter while Dusan Ristic played the center position.

In head coach Sean Miller’s defense, center was the only position that Ristic could play and he was one of the best four players on the entire Wildcats roster. So, Miller made do.

But don’t expect the Suns to do the same, as long as Igor Kokoskov has a say.

Remember the days of Earl Watson saying he didn’t want to hold Alex Len back, and played Len NEXT TO Tyson Chandler for a month after taking pver the Suns as a rookie coach? Sure, Len put up a double-double after the All-Star break but he nearly set a league record for worst field goal percentage by a 7-footer in 50 years of NBA record books.

Ayton is 7’1”, just like Tyson Chandler. He’s about 30 pounds heavier as has a longer wingspan than the former Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but does not yet know how to use his body against NBA players. Both players rebound at a high level.

So you can see how maybe an innovative coach might want to go twin-towers and give Ayton a chance to play without shackles as the power forward without the responsibility of guarding the rim.

Nope.

Looks like the Suns will use a four-out or five-out offense all year, with only one of Ayton or Chandler on the floor at a time.

Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, T.J. Warren and Trevor Ariza will likely rotate through as the second “big”, threatening the three ball to take the opponent out of the paint and reduce chances for double-teams against Ayton.

In that scheme, you can guess that Bender and Ariza will be the preferred “stretch four” candidates because they made 36%+ of their threes last year, and more than 40% when open on the catch-and-shoot.

As you can see, there’s too many players for too few minutes. Expect the Suns to cull the herd by training camp one way or another.

Ariza, Bender (because he can stretch the floor consistently, at the least), Bridges and Josh Jackson will get the minutes at the two forward spots first.

Across the two forward spots and Booker’s backup shooting guard minutes*, Igor has 48 + 48 + 14 = 110 minutes a game to spread around.

*I am cancelling out the Knight-at-backup-shooting-guard minutes with Booker-at-backup-point-guard minutes for simplicity sake. They should be roughly the same. More below.

Give 32 of those minutes to the team’s highest paid player, Ariza (he played 34 a night last year for Houston), and you’ve got 78 minutes left for all of T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and Mikal Bridges.

Across four players*, that’s under 20 per night. Expect the Suns to cull the herd a bit, by at least one player.

*I don’t see Troy Daniels getting minutes unless one of these guys is hurt or playing awfully for long stretches.

Point Book? No.

Another thing Kokoskov said the other day caught my attention. I had turned off my recorder just as he was giving the answer, so I don’t have the exact quote buuuuttt....

Igor says that he does NOT see the Suns giving Booker any additional traditional point guard duties in 2018-19 just because of the current roster makeup that’s heavy on wings and low on assist-makers.

While I personally love the idea of Booker at point, Ayton in the middle and three of Jackson/Warren/Bridges/Bender/Ariza on the outside, Igor doesn’t see that as a common lineup.

When asked by Scott Bordow the other day after SL practice, Igor clearly said no. He does not see Booker bringing the ball up the floor a lot as the primary ball handler. He said Booker is their best scorer and shot creator and would be used as a secondary ball handler via hand-off and screen actions (see Slovenia NT at EuroCup for example), but would not be expected to spend a lot of time as the main ball handler on the floor.

The Suns expect Brandon Knight, Elie Okobo or a point-guard-to-be-acquired-later to run the show next year, with Booker getting the ball A LOT once they cross the time line.

It’s nice to see Igor having a clear vision of exactly what to do with his franchise cornerstones.