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Suns notebook: Positionless basketball, Daniels will keep shooting

Phoenix Suns forward TJ Warren and Portland Trail Blazers center Zach Collins go after a ball during the second half of an NBA basketball preseason game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns played at a more hectic pace than ever in their opening preseason game against the Portland Trail Blazers Tuesday, a 114-112 win.

To do so, the team went small.

The first sub off the bench, small forward Josh Jackson, entered the game for starting center Tyson Chandler. That slid starting small forward T.J. Warren to the four and starting power forward Marquese Chriss to the five.

The theme continued throughout the night. Power forward Dragan Bender entered the game as a center and even small forward Derrick Jones Jr., who was listed at 190 pounds last season, spent some time guarding Portland’s power forward as well.

When asked the following day about how he assesses the process of going small, head coach Earl Watson shrugged off the notion of specific positions.

“I don’t think there’s any more threes or fours in the NBA,” Watson said. “Pretty soon it will be no more centers — just the way the game is going, you have a lot of skilled players.”

When Jackson was asked about playing with Warren as players who play the same position, it was a similar philosophy shared.

“Well, on this team, I don’t really think there are positions,” Jackson said. “It’ll just be something we got to get used to.”

Even with that, there still needs to be some semblance of structure to the lineup, and Jackson admitted that it did lead to some errors and there isn’t a definitive plan, as of now, on who plays lower down.

“There were a few times last night where me and T.J. were kind of confused on who was playing the four and who was playing the three but we talked about it today and just whoever is in that position at that time that’s who is going to play it. If he beats me to the four-man spot and I’m at the three-man spot then that is what it is,” he said.

Watson went on to discuss his main concern with the wings moving down.

“The rebounding is most important,” Watson said. “We were plus-four on the boards, we wanted to be plus-five for the game. I thought (Alex) Len and Dragan (Bender) kinda cleaned up the rest of that but we have to be better rebounders.”

Bender had 10 rebounds in 29 minutes while Len, one of the best players on the court for Phoenix in their preseason opener, had 13 in 20 minutes.

Jackson noted the same aspect for them to pick up and said he’s really trying to improve on it after grabbing only three in 15 minutes.

The moves are certainly easier for the Suns to do without Alan Williams and Jared Dudley, and the main benefit of going small was playing faster.

They were playing at such a high speed, in fact, that Watson joked he needs Jackson to go even faster when Jackson felt like he was going too quick at times, turning the ball over six times.

“I have this thing that fast isn’t fast enough,” Watson said. “And Josh was like, ‘coach, I went as fast as I could and I kept falling down’ and I said that’s OK, you’ll learn to keep your feet in and make the right plays, but don’t stop. Keep going faster.”

DANIELS WILL KEEP SHOOTING

Shooting guard Troy Daniels was certainly not shy in the game, taking 12 shots, 11 of them from the three-point line.

He struggled in the first half, but Daniels finished the night making five of those 11 threes for 15 points. The momentum of Daniels catching fire in the fourth quarter played a large role in the team’s comeback win.

On a team that only had one above average three-point shooter last season, it’s no surprise to hear an anecdote from Watson telling Daniels to always shoot.

“We initiated texts, we started talking. I told him I have two rules and he was like, ‘what are they?’ I said be on time and shoot the ball every effing time you touch it and he hit me with a ‘lol’ and he said ‘done,'” Watson said.

Daniels’ career 40.6 three-point percentage is elite. Per Basketball-Reference, of the players who have attempted at least 500 three-pointers in their career, only 45 have shot at least 40 percent.

That makes Daniels more than worthy of a steady green light.

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