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Suns Open Practice: What you will and won’t see

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

Phoenix Suns rookie coach Igor Kokoskov just finished his first NBA training camp as the head coach, the Grand Poobah, the Big Cheese, but he’s no wide-eyed rookie. This is his 19th season participating on some level in coaching one of these 4-day minicamps.

Contrast that to former coaches Earl Watson and Jeff Hornacek’s first camp as the Honcho . They’d only been part of running these camps as a player development coach for a season or two on their respective staffs.

Igor, on the other hand, has been part of 18 NBA camps before this one, plus running 10 years of National Team camps oversees (Serbia and Montenegro, Republic of Georgia, Slovenia).

He knows what you can and cannot accomplish in less than a handful of morning walk-throughs followed by evening scrimmages.

He knows that if you want to install a brand new offense and brand new defense, you cannot expect the players to have ingrained all the drills and principles just yet.

But you CAN instill work ethic, thought processes and meaning to what’s being accomplished. Where Igor shines is with teaching the “why” of what they’re being asked to do, so that when indecision comes into play they know the default.

“Put em in a blender”

That’s a phrase Igor used when describing the Suns new offense. He wants the ball constantly moving. A player needs to grab and go, take the shot or pass the ball within two seconds of touching it. No more ball-pounding, no more iso-ball, except in cases of emergency when all else fails.

When Slovenia won the Euro Cup last year, Igor’s team had two of the best ball handlers, passers and shot-creators in the world with Goran Dragic and Luka Doncic, but otherwise a limited roster.

He could have set up an iso-ball offense to make sure that one of Dragic or Doncic had the ball 90% of the time. Yet that would have allowed the other teams’ defenses to key on two players while hedging off the rest, and would have resulted in Slovenia likely finishing where they were projected to finish (8th) instead of winning the whole thing handily.

Instead, he installed an offense that moved the ball constantly, using all five players, and put the defenses in a blender. This created needed space for Doncic and Dragic to finish the play with a bit of space off movement and defensive breakdowns no matter how badly they wanted to stifle Slovenia’s only two high-level creators.

You also saw this to some extent in Summer League with the Suns. Igor introduced his offensive principles in July, keeping the ball on the move until the eventual dump into top overall pick Deandre Ayton for a high-efficiency finish (he made 66% of his shots in SL).

What I’d like to see today is how Igor has evolved the offense with NBA-level talent all around the court. He’s got more ball handlers, a career iso-guy (T.J. Warren), and pair of spread-the-floor vets in Trevor Ariza, in addition to Ayton and the kids.

How will this new talent be used and maximized? Will the ball be on the move even more since summer league?

Switching, barking D

The name of the new game in the NBA is to be able to switch like crazy on defense so you’re not getting hung up on screen after screen, leaving guys open for easy scores.

To successfully employ a switching, the players need to be able to talk to each other. Warn each other what’s coming and call out help sides so the guard knows which side to shade on the perimeter and which side has “help” waiting.

I expect we’ll see a very active, loud defense today that looks fun and promising, but remember two things:

  • their legs are dead tired from 5-6 hours a day of practice for the last four days
  • Igor won’t do anything today to expose their defensive flaws. He won’t put Ayton on an island after switching. He won’t make any players look bad.

No rigged score

Well yes, actually, the open scrimmage is likely to have scoring involved. And they are likely to orchestrate the scoring to make sure no one group of guys blows the other group away.

But at least they’re not doing it like an actual “game” this time. It’s an open scrimmage, meaning Igor is going to let them play but it likely won’t be on a game clock and won’t have the structured quarters or timeouts or shot clocks.

Plus, we get to see some practice drills before the scrimmage actually starts!

I am excited for this new format.

Get on down to Talking Stick Resort Arena today. Free admission. Doors open at 11:00am, and the open practice starts at noon.

Let’s go!