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Suns Training Camp, Day 3: Williams wants 10-man rotation, Tyler Johnson likes talking

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Notes from Flagstaff, including the team’s first five-on-five play.

I attended the open portion of practice to the media today in Flagstaff. The Suns players were working in units with different assistants, running regular unremarkable shooting drills.

Word was that today the guys played 5-on-5 for the first time, which prompted Monty Williams to comment that he could tell the guys were trying handle all the new schemes in such a short amount of time.

“I’ve hit them with a lot,” coach Williams said. “I’m sure they are overloaded, which I like. I think we’re in a good spot as far as learning, but we have a ways to go.”

He also says the altitude and the rigors of training camp have taken a toll, as seen in the intra-squad scrimmage.

“They’re exhausted,” Williams said. “We’ve had a lot of shots that are short.”

End-of-practice shooting groups

Media is let in after practice ends and players are just shooting around in groups.

Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky worked together on threes from each of the zones. The young end-of-bench bigs worked separately as a group — Cheick Diallo, Norense Odease and Tariq Owens. Makes sense.

The guards groups were interesting at the end of this practice: Elie Okobo worked with Jared Harper and Jevon Carter and other young guards, including Cameron Johnson, while Ty Jerome worked in a foursome with Devin Booker, Tyler Johnson and Ricky Rubio.

All the groups were just working through shooting three-point shooting drills, so this isn’t necessarily an indication of hierarchies at all. But I found it interesting nonetheless. it’s even possible they paired themselves up without the aid of coaching staffs. I really don’t know and was told not to read anything into it.

Deandre Ayton worked mostly by himself at that point with an assistant, practicing turn-and-shoot threes on the catch from the top of the arc. Aron Baynes, sporting a cut on his nose from practice, was done with practice when we got in. I didn’t really pick up on where Jalen Lecque was at this point, nor did I see much of the still “discomforted” Kelly Oubre Jr. or Mikal Bridges. Remember, this was after practice was officially over. And there were courts too far away from our vantage point to see player faces clearly.

Ayton did talk to us after practice. You can see some of the shooting groups in the background.

Deandre gave some props to assistant coach Mark Bryant for helping him on his footwork in pick and roll, and how to bang better against smaller bigs in the post, to punish them better.

Tyler Johnson likes all the talking

‘When we’re out there on the floor, you hear voices,” Johnson said of the team in training camp. “That’s huge. You feel like you’re on an island, guarding a Kyrie or a Steph [so it’s good] when you got voices behind you. Everybody’s doing their part. It gives you so much more confidence.”

Remember last year when Johnson said opponents knew the Suns would fold at some point during the game, no matter how well they played early on? He also talked about being surprised by just how much older he felt than the rest of the team. Tyler was just 26 years old, but only Jamal Crawford was older than him in the rotation. And finally, he was surprised by how quiet the timeout huddles were, compared to the huddles he was used to in Miami.

“You talk about last year,” Johnson said. “I remember sometimes going in the huddles and it was quiet. Dead quiet.”

This year, he appears to be much more comfortable, being surrounded by NBA veterans like Rubio, Saric, Baynes and Kaminsky now to help with the maturity among the team, along with Monty Williams and the veteran coaching staff. He says the guys know how to handle themselves in timeouts, even before the coaches get in there and draw up the next play. Guys are trying to point out what went wrong that caused the coach to call timeout, and how they can fix it.

“With Monty,” Johnson said, “I think the stability aspect has been found.”

“I like Tyler a lot,” Williams said in his own media scrum. “He’s solid. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He does a lot of stuff well.”

Did you watch the interview I posted from Media Day? In there, he said he wasn’t stressed at all this summer about his contract and being traded or released, despite Bright Siders’ thoughts about it. He knew he’d be back in Phoenix simply because it made the most sense.

He was right.

Here’s the whole interview from practice on Thursday. Enjoy. Makes me want this guy on the team forever.

Monty Williams wants 10-man rotation

“We told our guys from day one we want a 10-man rotation,” Williams said about the natural competition in camp with 19 players vying for playing time. “We’ve got a lot of guys here so you can figure it out. If we create a lot of competition for the guys, that allows us to evaluate. We started evaluating a few weeks ago. You can evaluate in a number of areas: Concepts, comprehension, how hard a guy works, in scrimmaging. And in preseason games that’s another opportunity to evaluate, see where guys are and how they fit in to your system.”

So we’ve got a starting unit of Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric and Deandre Ayton.

The primary backups almost certain to play regular minutes are Tyler Johnson, Mikal Bridges and Aron Baynes.

That’s eight. Three guards. One power forward. Two centers. Two small forwards.

Could Monty go with just those 8? Of course. But he says he doesn’t want to. He wants to go 10-deep because he believes in these guys.

So who else plays? The top candidates for the final two regular rotation spots:

  • Power forward Frank Kaminsky
  • Small forward Cameron Johnson (rookie)
  • Point guard Ty Jerome (rookie)

Apologies to the rest of the roster, but based on recent comments from training camp as well as team needs, I think it’s down to these three for the remaining two regular spots.

The two rookies have gotten rave reviews but both are wings/guards at this point, while Frank the Tank is the only one of the three who can comfortably play big man minutes.

They can all theoretically stretch the floor with long range shooting, but Frank is the only one who’s proven he can make threes on an NBA floor (38% and 36% his last two years).

Ty Jerome has the most ball-handling skills to create plays for others, while Frank and Cam are really only known as shooters.

None is a proven, good defender to help on that end of the floor. You might want to make a case for Cheick Diallo or Javon Carter for the defense part as the 10th man, but I just don’t see them playing ahead of the rookies or Frank, as long as Frank is making shots.

I guess the real answer is likely about the matchups, rather than picking just two. Against a big team, Frank might get time while against a small team it could be more about supplementing the guard/wing rotation to keep up the pace. Or against another team, it might be Diallo’s chance over Frank to get more athleticism in there. Or if the guards are struggling to defend, maybe Jevon Carter gets called upon.

We shall see...

Next up

Friday is the final day of the rigorous training camp, after which they head back down to their homes in the valley and settle in for season-like work.

Sunday is the OPEN SCRIMMAGE, free to the public, at 1:00 PM at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Come on down to see them run up and down the court, probably playing sloppy. But you’ll get to see the new guys in Suns unis, and I’m excited we’ll get our first glimpse of Rubio as the playmaker.

Tuesday is the first PRESEASON GAME, where the Suns host Minnesota (Dario’s revenge?) right here at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

It’s almost game time!!