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Jay Triano experiments with Suns’ lineup in terrific win over T-Wolves

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns interim head coach Jay Triano tried nearly everything Saturday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first half of a 118-110 win.

From Devin Booker himself playing point guard, to Josh Jackson playing three different positions to a new starting point guard, he went all out.

It was a stark contrast to a predictable beginning of Triano’s reign filled with simplicity. Everyone is going to play one primary position for the time being and they will build off a concept of the hot hand staying in the game.

That’s not the case anymore.

One of the first looks received was Friday night in a loss against the Orlando Magic.

Triano played both T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson together, something he hadn’t been doing at all despite the positional versatility have.

“Last night, I thought on the floor together they had good minutes and we had a little bit of foul trouble that caused us to get into that spot and I thought they played very well,” Triano said before Saturday’s game. “We were extremely active defensively, we touched the ball a lot and now we are looking at ways we can maybe create that.”

The way they also created that was with Booker running the point at the end of the first half. Something Triano has emphasized the past week has been figuring out ways to get Booker the ball more and that was one of them.

“That was one of our thoughts coming in compared to the other night where it was just so hard for him,” Triano said after the game of Booker. “So we thought if you have the ball, keep it, and we don’t have to worry about getting it to you.”

Jackson bounced between stretches at both power forward and shooting guard on top of his primary spot of small forward.

At the two-guard, he had an impressive defensive sequence on Jamal Crawford. The 37-year-old has spent well over a decade using his hesitation dribbles and crossover combinations to score, but Jackson wasn’t going anywhere as the crowd went “ooh!” during Crawford’s moves.

It’s part of the ability that made Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau glow when asked about Jackson before the game.

“I think that those types of players, like when you look at our league now, his versatility is a big thing,” he said.

“He can play three positions. He can guard everyone, he can make plays, he has great anticipation. You try to build your team like that, so I think he’s a terrific talent and looks like he’s getting more comfortable. We are concerned about him. I liked him a lot to answer your question.”

Jackson has not been shy in the past two games, maintaining his motor, aggression and confidence he was known for out of Kansas by attempting 30 shots in those two combined.

Despite him going 3-of-12 Saturday night instead of nights like the 9-for-18 against Orlando Friday, Triano emphasizes the importance of him staying at full speed.

“We want him to play hair on fire like he does,” Triano said. “He’s going to learn when to find an angle, and when to make a play for somebody else. I love his effort, I love how hard he tries on both ends of the floor and if he plays good defense, he’ll find more minutes and get a chance to show what he does at the offensive end.”

Jackson, and the Suns, have been making mistakes like young teams do. When asked about the 18 turnovers in the win Saturday night, Triano had a physical reaction as soon as the number was said.

“Josh has a big part of that,” Triano said of Jackson’s six. “We want to encourage but control. We encourage him to keep doing the same thing but just under a little bit more control and he’s gonna do that.”

His change at point guard, moving Tyler Ulis in ahead of Mike James, helped both units, and is something he said he will monitor each game.

“The pressure that we thought that would disrupt (Jeff) Teague a little bit just by wearing him down a little bit,” Triano said.

“We needed Mike to score a little bit for the second unit,” he said. “We didn’t feel like we were getting enough points out of the second unit.”

With Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss at the power forward spot, the Suns have to be hoping to extend that flexibility, versatility and fluidity of the lineups across the court.

Saturday night was a good stepping stone towards Triano’s implementation of those more complex roles.

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