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Suns’ Devin Booker models Jay Triano’s coaching philosophy

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) slaps hands with interim head coach Jay Triano, left, as Booker comes out of the game during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in Phoenix. The Nets defeated the Suns 98-92. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
LISTEN: Jay Triano, Suns Interim Head Coach

Phoenix Suns shooting guard Devin Booker has become the poster child for interim head coach Jay Triano’s system in recent games.

Triano has made playing stingy defense a point of emphasis since he took over for Earl Watson, and Booker has slowly but surely recognized how important playing shutdown defense is.

“We showed him some clips of the first three games after I took over, how intense he was at guarding and doing the right things and he’s a smart basketball player,” Triano told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “The last two games he has been right back at it and I think when everybody sees our leading scorer and our leading assist guy doing what he’s doing they’re going to buy in as well.”

Not only has Booker improved his defense, the last six games suggest he is becoming an elite offensive player. Booker scored a season-high 36 points in Monday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers and has scored at least 30 points in six of his last 10 games.

In addition, Booker is one of only three players currently averaging above 22 points, four assists and four rebounds per game with shooting percentages of 45 from the field, 35 from the three-point stripe and 85 at the free throw line. The other two? Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.

“Nobody else is in the league is putting up numbers like that averaging 25 points,” Triano said. “Those stats to me don’t mean as much as to what he is trying to do at the defensive end for us. He’s chasing over, he’s in the active stance defensively.”

Booker and T.J. Warren are carrying the Suns offensively, but Phoenix has shuffled the point guards on the roster since trading Eric Bledsoe to the Milwaukee Bucks seven days ago. Triano recently decided to start Tyler Ulis at point guard over Mike James, but Ulis only had two assists in 27 minutes and James had one in 17 minutes against Los Angeles.

In an ideal world, Ulis and James would get the scorers, Booker and Warren, the basketball but Triano said the reasoning for having Booker at the point stems from a combination of not having a true facilitator, what Booker has done and wanting to keep Warren and Josh Jackson on the floor at the same time.

“He’s (Booker) our leading assist guy right now,” Triano said. “He makes more plays for anybody else, he draws a lot of attention and we thought we were really long with him at the point and Warren and Jackson playing the wing spots.”

Booker has averaged 3.9 assists per game in the first 15 and his elite play on both ends of the court speaks volumes. But for Triano, it is his work at the defensive end that has elevated his overall play.

“He’s playing his best basketball, and I don’t think it’s just because of the great numbers he is doing at the offensive end,” Triano said.

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