• Welcome back Hoop Ballers to our International Spotlight weekly feature where we will be taking a look into Suns’ new head coach, Serbian-American Igor Kokoskov.

    A long list of candidates that included interim coach Jay Triano, Mike Budenholzer, David Fizdale, Steve Clifford, Frank Vogel, Kevin McHale, David Blatt, Jason Kidd, Vinny Del Negro and Spurs’ assistant James Borrego interviewed with the Suns after the end of the regular season. On Wednesday, the team announced that they have hired Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov on a three-year deal to become their newest head coach.

    And while Kokoskov’s name caught many by surprise he is by no means a stranger to basketball circles in the United States as he has a long and very successful career both at the NBA and the international level.

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    Kokoskov was born and raised in Serbia, an athletic and very promising guard whose basketball career was cut short after a car accident – a near-fatal head-on collision that caused him various injuries and left him at the hospital for months. Naturally, he turned to coaching and he was on the staff of Yugoslavia’s (now Serbia’s) men’s and junior national teams, becoming the youngest coach in the country’s basketball history at the age of 24. In the next few years he hit a few more milestones becoming the first European to be a part of the coaching staff for an NCAA Division I men’s college basketball program (getting hired by Quin Snyder at the University of Missouri) and the first non-American to be hired as a full-time assistant coach in the NBA, by the Clippers.

    He has been one of the most well-rounded and experienced assistants in the NBA the last 18 years working under Alvin Gentry, Larry Brown, Flip Saunders, Mike Brown and of course Quin Snyder with whom he formed a really strong bond. The two men met while Snyder was still at Duke and Kokoskov was on a tour of American schools. They became really good friends and Snyder was the one that brought him with him to Missouri once he landed a job with the Tigers.

    Strong Player Development Skills

    Kokoskov is widely respected around the league, especially by NBA players, due to his player-development skills, an asset that is critical for a young Suns team that struggled with maturity the last couple years. He is really big on players putting in the work and if you notice his routine before games he has a very thorough and extensive pregame workout with his players.

    While in Phoenix from 2008 until 2013, he spent time working with the likes of Steve Nash and Goran Dragic, helping the Dragon develop into the player he became a couple years later. He is also a great teacher and that was put in display by helping Shaquille O’Neal improve his free-throw shooting while with the Suns. Shaq shot 51.3 percent from the line in 2007-08 but that number went up to 59.5 percent next year, Kokoskov’s first season with the Suns.

    Former Jazz point guard George Hill had a great season last year in Utah (for as long as he was healthy) and repeatedly acknowledged the help he got from Kokoskov. “The things that he has me do are different than I’ve been used to. But what he’s had me do is phenomenal, little things that I didn’t know would help me become a better shooter and better off the dribble, things like that. We take a lot of time doing balance and core. You always want to work with someone who’s experienced, and Coach has been very good for me.

    Snyder and Kokoskov were also behind Gordon Hayward’s transformation into an All-Star, Rudy Gobert becoming one of the best defensive players in the league and Hoop Ball favorite Joe Ingles continuing to get better with age, something that doesn’t happen often. This year I’ve seen Kokoskov and Rubio constantly working on his shot before games and after practice and the results have been career-highs in field goal (41.8) and 3-point (35.2) percentage. The Suns have a ton of young players including Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss and most of them should be able to take a major leap forward in the next few years.

    An X’s and O’s Genius

    Kokoskov’s style involves a lot of ball and player movement with shooters spacing the floor, following the modern style of pace and space, a style that will be ideal especially for Devin Booker. He is a system guy with an innovative mind and the architect of the Jazz offense that has surprised many people who thought the departure of Gordon Hayward left an irreplaceable void. He doesn’t believe in specialization and his philosophy aims at players understanding the game both from an offensive and a defensive standpoint.

    He is a big fan of the “single-tag,” an offensive scheme where you put your best shooter behind the pick-and-roll and preferably on the weak side. Single-tag is the hardest thing to guard in basketball today and the Jazz have used this set multiple times this year. Look at Ricky Rubio taking a great screen from Rudy Gobert which brings the Nuggets defense apart as a couple shooters are on the weak side and the French big man rolls to the basket, forcing Wilson Chandler to leave Joe Ingles wide open in the corner.

    I also expect Igor to put the ball in the hands of Dragan Bender more as this could help Devin Booker play off-ball and avoid all the grind that comes with the constant pick-and-roll action. I talked earlier this season about Bender’s ability to be a reliable ball handler but this didn’t happen under Jay Triano and it could be something that helps him take his game to the next level.

    What he did with the Jazz on the defensive side was to instruct Gobert to drop back and have the team play the pick-and-roll with two-on-two coverage. The idea is to protect the rim and the 3-point line by staying home with the shooters while daring the ballhandler to beat them with pull-up jumpers or floaters. Unfortunately for the Jazz, Chris Paul is probably the best at hitting midrange shots and this was put on display in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

    The Luka Doncic Connection

    The Suns have the best odds at landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and DeAndre Ayton sure looks like a perfect fit for a team that has been weak inside but the hiring of Kokoskov has definitely complicated things. Igor was Luka Doncic’s head coach last year with the Slovenian national team and he was instrumental into leading him and Goran Dragic to the 2017 EuroBasket title. They have a great relationship which could simplify Doncic’s transition to the NBA and it will be interesting to see what the Suns will do in June if they secure the top pick in the draft.

    Under Kokoskov the Slovenian national team played mostly small ball with Goran Dragic, Luka Doncic and Klemen Prepelic scoring a lot of points in transition and spreading the floor while former NBAer Anthony Randolph became the rim protector. They scored the most points in the tournament (813 and 90.3 per game) and hit the second most threes (9.0 per game) in a fast-paced offensive scheme similar to what you’ll see in the NBA.

    Kokoskov is an extremely skilled man who has worked very hard at his craft and has earned the respect of players and coaches around the world.  The downside is that he doesn’t have the experience as a head coach at the NBA level but he is a young (only 46 years old) and up-and-coming coach and I consider him the most modern European basketball mind in the NBA that has been able to stay up to date with the all the current innovative schemes both on offense and defense. The team had some organizational failures the last few years and this is mostly related to Robert Sarver being cheap and refusing to pay for top-notch coaches like Mike Budenholzer. He is obviously a great hire for the Suns and I’m pretty sure he will coax more out of the young players on that team as a great teacher who will hopefully bring stability to a team desperate for some growth.

    Thank you for reading this article and please make sure you check us back again next week and throughout the offseason as more player breakdowns are coming up. Stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.

Fantasy News

  • Kemba Walker
    PG, Boston Celtics

    Team USA has named Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart and Donovan Mitchell as captains for the FIBA World Cup.

    Congratulations to Mitchell, Walker and Smart on the tremendous honor of being named captains for the USA men's team. This won't have any impact on their upcoming fantasy seasons, but it is a major accomplishment nonetheless. Team USA has an exhibition rematch against Team Australia on Saturday.

    Source: Boston.com Celtics News on Twitter

  • Isaiah Canaan
    PG, International

    Isaiah Canaan has signed a contract with the Shangdong Heroes of the Chinese Basketball Association.

    The veteran journeyman played for the Suns, Wolves and Bucks last season, appearing in 30 games total. Canaan will be looking at a more prominent role and payday overseas as he attempts to build his value back up before trying to latch on to a team towards the end of the year. Canaan is off the fantasy radar.

    Source: Zhang Duo on Twitter

  • Patty Mills
    PG, San Antonio Spurs

    Patty Mills put up 19 points, three assists, two steals, a block and three 3-pointers in Thursday's international exhibition between Team Australia and Team USA.

    The Boomers figure to be one of the chief threats to the Americans in the World Cup and put forth a competitive effort in today's exhibition. Mills has typically been a steady, late-round fantasy option for deep-league play but that may change this season as the Spurs will need to mix in both Derrick White and Dejounte Murray in the backcourt. Chris Goulding tied for the team lead in points, also scoring 19 while hitting four 3-pointers in 22 minutes off the bench.

  • Myles Turner
    C, Indiana Pacers

    Myles Turner put up 15 points and 14 rebounds in Thursday's exhibition win over Team Australia, shooting 6-of-8 from the floor with a 3-pointer.

    Turner didn't get any blocks but we know that last year's league-leader can rack those up in a hurry, whether he's getting them in international competition or not. Look for another early-middle round season out of the talented big man. Kemba Walker led Team USA with 23 points in the 102-86 win.

  • Trevon Bluiett
    PF, Utah Jazz

    Trevon Bluiett and Juwan Morgan sign with the Jazz in the hopes of one day playing in an NBA game.

    Bluiett was on a two-way contract with the Pelicans last season while Juwan Morgan played for the Jazz in the 2019 Summer League. They will both compete for a roster spot in training camp but neither is a guarantee to make the final roster. They both have yet to see the court in an NBA game and can be ignored from a fantasy perspective until that day comes.

    Source: Tony Jones on Twitter

  • Zach Collins
    C, Portland Trail Blazers

    Zach Collins (ankle) began daily contact workouts on Monday and is on pace to head into training camp fully healthy.

    Collins is heading into what could be a breakout season as he is likely to start at the power forward position. In the 2019 playoffs, the Gonzaga product blocked a shot in 11 of the 16 games including three games in which he blocked three, four and five respectively. Collins has averaged around 33% from distance throughout his career which is exactly what he shot in the postseason (7-21). If he is able to improve from long range and plays starters minutes, Collins is a can't-miss player. It's far from a guarantee though as the 21-year-old has never finished with standard-league value. It does seem like Collins will be ready for training camp barring a major setback.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Cory Joseph
    PG, Sacramento Kings

    Nick Nurse said that reports of Cory Joseph missing the FIBA World Cup are “incorrect”.

    Nurse added that he spoke to Joseph on Wednesday and that the guard has his flights booked to China. Joseph was in Canada’s camp at home earlier this month, but did not make the trip to Australia and has missed the past four exhibition games. The situation has become a little bit murky but Canada Basketball keeps holding out hope that Joseph will rejoin the team before they depart for China, which doesn’t happen until Monday.

    Source: John Casey on Twitter

  • Tyronn Lue
    PG, Los Angeles Clippers

    Shams Charania of The Athletic is reporting former Cavs championship-winning coach Tyronn Lue has agreed to join the Clippers as their top assistant coach to Doc Rivers.

    The Lakers and Clippers rivalry continues to heat up. Lue was very close to a deal with the Lakers in May to become their head coach, but the sides couldn’t reach an agreement. Lue now joins Kawhi Leonard as another person to spurn the Lakers this offseason.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • PJ Tucker
    SF, Houston Rockets

    P.J. Tucker says he is optimistic about signing a contract extension soon.

    The 34-year-old 3-and-D wing hopes to extend his deal with the Rockets, but a potential extension wouldn't begin until his age-36 season. Houston has him under contract for two more seasons at this point, so they may not be motivated enough to get something done this offseason. However, a maximum Tucker extension would only have him in the $10 million per year range. Even as a 37-year-old, that could be a great deal if he can keep up his current production. Tucker remains a sneaky source of threes and steals late in fantasy drafts or off the wire.

    Source: Kurt Helin on Twitter

  • Jaylen Adams
    PG, Milwaukee Bucks

    The Bucks officially announced the signings of guards Jaylen Adams and Rayjon Tucker on Tuesday.

    Adams and Tucker have their work cut out for them in their bid to claim a roster with the big club, as the Bucks have a reasonably deep guard rotation. Adams and Tucker are more than likely competing to get playing time in the G-League this season and can be ignored in fantasy.

    Source: NBA