Why Kokoskov is coaching plus the plan for Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender
PHOENIX – It’s been an 18-year wait to become an NBA head coach so Igor Kokoskov was not about to wait a few more months.
Kokoskov will make his NBA head coaching debut on Friday, the start of summer league play, rather than October and the start of the regular season.
Most head coaches leave Summer League games to their assistants, though a handful of first-year head coaches, which Kokoskov is, do use Summer League as a way to get their feet wet, so to speak. It’s the route Jeff Hornacek took when he was named Suns head coach in 2013.
For Kokoskov, however, the decision to lead the Suns’ Summer League roster was a no-brainer.
“The purpose of the Summer League is to get better, all of us. And I was telling guys today, us as a staff, them as the players and myself as the coach, you feel that you’re invested,” he said Wednesday.
“And at the end of the day I know it’s a job, it’s a business to do but if you don’t have a passion for the game, if you don’t like what you do, then it’s hard for you. So I would never consider myself that I have go to work. It’s something, it’s my really great pleasure to do.”
Kokoskov will operate the games, beginning Friday against Dallas, as if they were regular-season contests, with his entire staff — Joe Prunty, Corliss Williamson, Jamelle McMillan and Jason Staudt — offering input.
Though early on in the process, count rookie center Deandre Ayton among those excited about a Kokoskov-led Suns team.
“His playmakers are his big men so the ball really runs through us a lot. Us setting screens and really looking for our guards and talking to our guards, especially on the defensive end is a really big thing for him,” Ayton said.
“He always calls it out. When he’s demonstrating something he always calls my name and says, ‘Deandre you’re the playmaker of the team, this is what you got to do, this is what you got to pay attention to for the day.’”
Playing time for Josh Jackson
The Suns’ Summer League roster is not filled with just rookies and undrafted players hoping to catch the eye of the Suns or any one of the other 29 NBA teams. There are a few familiar faces, including last year’s top draft pick, forward Josh Jackson.
The question is how much will Jackson play?
“I don’t have any idea right now,” he said, “but I’m just going to play it by ear, see how I feel and we’ll just see.”
Jackson played 77 games last season, earning All-NBA Rookie Second Team honors.
Plan for Dragan Bender
Joining Jackson on the Summer Suns, and perhaps facing a similar playing time question, is forward Dragan Bender. He was the only Sun to play in all 82 games last season, his second in the NBA.
Still, the Suns asked that he participate in the NBA Summer League.
“We’re going to challenge him. I think it’s good for him,” Kokoskov said. “He’s a very talented, young player. We need him more, and that’s why he’s playing summer league so to add even more experience to his game.”
Kokoskov is familiar with Bender and his game. He’s coached against Bender over in Europe.
At 7-foot-1 and 235 pounds — 10 pounds heavier than what he was listed at during the season — Bender brings a unique skillset to the Suns, a big man who can handle the basketball and stretch the floor with his outside shooting.
“We anticipate and we are projecting to have our power forwards to play more on the perimeter. That’s going to be a challenge for him defensively, first of all,” Kokoskov said, referring to Bender. “To contain smaller — the whole league has become smaller and he’s got to contain and guard the smaller guys and he has to take advantage with his size and his length.
“Every aspect of the game he can get better (and) that’s why he’s here.”
Marquese Chriss’ absence
With Bender on the roster, it then raised eyebrows that fellow second-year power forward Marquese Chriss was not included.
“There’s no story for you guys, I’m sorry. Chriss is in a good place. He was here all week working on his game. Every team has got to have some chemistry and we think at this point it’s more important for him to work on his body, to take more kind of time and energy on working on his other part of the game basically,” Kokoskov said.
“So, he’s in a good place. We spoke with him. He’s in a good place, we are as an organization, as a staff so there’s no story behind (it). There’s nothing like, ‘hey, what’s going on?’ Nothing really. Chriss is in a good place. He’s working out. We have a good group here in the summer and the offseason moves on.”