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The 5: Takeaways from Suns training camp in Flagstaff

Phoenix Suns' Deandre Ayton speaks during media day at the NBA basketball team's practice facility in Phoenix, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The unofficial first week of the season began on Monday for the Phoenix Suns with media day, followed by four days of training camp in Flagstaff.

Here are five takeaways from the team’s time up north.

Getting down the basics

When first-year head coach Igor Kokoskov was asked about hot topics surrounding the team like the point guard position, rotations or anything else, he continuously reiterated that wasn’t much of a focus in Flagstaff.

“A lot of teaching, a lot of stations, a lot of breakdowns,” he said Tuesday. “Being familiar with the concepts (and) being familiar within your terminology you’re going to use.

“Once we start playing for real and against each other, we have to speak (the) same language, use the same terminology. So a lot of teaching.”

That broke down training camp into two sections. The morning practices featured no contact and were more about getting down the system. The practice later in the day, though, is when the contact and competition would heat up with the players taking on each other.

“The first couple days of training camp is fighting teaching and intensity because when you teach, you slow it down, you’re looking for perfect,” Kokoskov said.  “You’ve gotta be sure everyone understands what you’re teaching, what you’re talking about, and also trying to see some intensity.”

Kokoskov said Thursday it’s a process that takes time.

“The main thing is understanding what we’re trying to do and understanding concepts and (the) willingness to do that,” he said.

“This (is) a game of reaction. It’s not (a) game of thinking.”

All of this looks like a process that is perfect for an established young core to go through together.

With the left like he’s Book

A tradition coming into the tail end of the morning’s non-contact practice is watching shooting guard Devin Booker go through ball-handling, passing and shooting drills with his left hand.

That’s all he can do with his right hand still in a splint after hand surgery.

“Lot of conditioning,” Kokoskov said Thursday of what Booker has been doing.

“I’m not really using the hand at all but my legs still work, unfortunately,” Booker joked Thursday.

Even still, Booker has been present and sometimes running through some of the stations he could participate in using one hand.

“It helps a lot because he can walk through and just feel himself,” Kokoskov said.

Both Kokoskov and Booker wouldn’t provide any further update on a timetable or if Booker has progressed quicker than expected in Flagstaff.

Booker said he doesn’t know how the hand will feel with the ball since he hasn’t done that yet with the splint still on.

“I’m just listening to the training staff,” Booker said. “They’ve been through many incidents like this before so they know what’s best and I’m going to go off my feeling also and when that time comes, obviously I’m ready to get back out there.”

So the question remains if he’s ready for opening night, but whenever he’s back, don’t be shocked if Booker pulls out a lefty skip pass or hook shot every once in a while.

Veterans helping early

Kokoskov is installing his system full of its own language and unique factors that make it different from others across the league.

With that comes a whole lot of the learning Kokoskov has mentioned, but also failing for players during that learning and correction of those errors.

The Suns are quite a young roster, so that’s where veterans like Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza and Tyson Chandler can come in and help the process be a bit more smooth.

“Those guys — they’re full of wisdom,” rookie Deandre Ayton said Wednesday. “They help us a lot on the court, too, when we’re confused and it’s like they know where we’re lost on the floor. They come over and talk to us and tell us about it, make us more comfortable.”

Ariza broke down what he thinks the difference between an inexperienced and experienced player comes down to.

“The players that you choose in the lottery a lot of times have supreme talent, but that’s the supreme talent on the college level or high school level and it’s a totally different game when you get here because everybody has that talent,” he said Thursday. “The difference is [veterans] have experience of going against the players that have been here defending that talent.

“So it just takes a while to understand and break down defenses, learn defenses and learning how to pick your spots for when to be aggressive and score the basketball and use your talent to your advantage.”

That benefit speaks to why the Suns were so quick to sign Ariza on the first day of free agency and another reason they saw to acquire Anderson.

Defensive coordinator

Ayton has a lot of responsibility not only as a No. 1 pick, but as the defense’s anchor.

That’s something both Ayton and his coach discussed on Wednesday.

“He’s gotta be our defensive coordinator,” Kokoskov said Wednesday. “That’s his job description.”

Ayton described why his communication defensively is so important and where he is progressing.

“Dudes that (are) down low really have to be the general,” Ayton said Wednesday. “I’m my point guards’ and wings’ eyes. I gotta be vocal when I’m tired — that’s what I’m learning now.”

One of Ayton’s defining weaknesses coming out of the draft was his defense and it’s great to see Kokoskov and Ayton taking the challenge of his defense as a rookie head-on.

Position battles

There are a few position battles to keep an eye on within the Suns roster.

The most notable of which is at point guard, where Isaiah Canaan, Shaquille Harrison, De’Anthony Melton and Elie Okobo will all fight for minutes. The presumption and reporting over the offseason points towards a trade coming up for the Suns, but that hasn’t come yet, so there are jobs to be won and lost.

The balance in the rotation on the wings will be fascinating to watch Kokoskov figure out as well.

Veteran Trevor Ariza leads the pack with his 3-and-D experience and Josh Jackson is coming off a strong second half last season. Mikal Bridges brings Ariza’s skillset with a specialty for defense while T.J. Warren is the best scorer of the four.

All week, Kokoskov didn’t divulge anything regarding anyone standing out in those groups. His focus, more so, is on the aforementioned learning of his systems.

Whoever is in the lead as far as grasping his philosophies will give themselves a great chance in those position battles.

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