This off-season the Phoenix Suns hired head coach Igor Kokoskov, hoping his new offensive concepts would spark a different energy on the court. Kokoskov has been praised as one of the brightest minds in basketball, having had experience as an assistant coach on a championship team in Detroit and bringing Slovenia a European Championship this summer.
Suns star guard Devin Booker said of Kokoskov, “I love him. I think having that European experience and NBA experience combined with it – he has so many different sets that are so creative and different counters to get everybody open.”
So far through summer league, pre-season, and the start of the season, Kokoskov has stuck to many of the same sets and actions that worked for him with Slovenia. In this piece I’ll analyze some of those sets and actions.
A set Kokoskov has brought with him from the Slovenian national team is a set that for the most part has been called ‘Double Eyes.’ This set is essentially a weave with split action up top with the 5. European teams had the greatest success defending it when they switched the action, as seen below.
NBA teams have elected not to switch the action so far this season. In this clip, Canaan puts up the ‘Double Eyes’ – triggering the action. The addition of Deandre Ayton presents another challenge for opposing teams.
Court spacing was an issue for the Suns last season. This off-season, they had a clear plan to bring in more shooters with the additions of Mikal Bridges, Ryan Anderson, and Trevor Ariza.
Per the BBall Index database, Anderson grades out in the 85th percentile in perimeter shooting among stretch bigs – his value will show in this set.
Anderson should help solve the Suns’ spacing issues – Anderson added 1.81 3s over expectation per 100 possessions last season which ranks in the 97.5 percentile since 1979-1980.
In the Anderson clip, Kokoskov ran the split action with a combo of Chandler – Reed – Ariza. The best way to run the set is with a playmaker coming onto the ball (Ariza in this case) and emptying the strong-side corner.
This is a good clip to illustrate how to unlock the potential of this set where Kokoskov brings Jackson on-ball and the strong-side is empty, creating the Jackson-Ayton lob.
As long as NBA teams continue to not switch the action, I would expect the Suns to have success, regardless of the variation they are running.
‘Fist Shirt Pull’
Another action Kokoskov runs is a ram screen into Spain PnR. In this action, the guard sets a screen on the opposing big and then a back-screen on the same big. For Slovenia the set was primarily referred to as ‘Chin Shirt Pull.’
In Summer League, Kokoskov changed the set call to ‘Fist Shirt Pull.’ The set creates multiple options for the ball-handler –in this case, Reed gets an open shot attempt after setting the back-screen.
Another component of the action that will happen more at the NBA level is to get a favorable matchup for the team’s best scorer, which is Devin Booker. This was seen late in the season-opener against the Mavericks.
Late in the fourth quarter, Igor is seen putting up the fist and then pulls his shirt. The ram screen forces the smaller Brunson onto Booker –a much more favorable match-up compared to Wes Matthews. It is a great call from Kokoskov at the right time.
One of the staples in the Kokoskov offense is his ‘Chin’ series. The key with this set is creating space for the lead guard to attack from the center of the floor.
A continuing theme with many of these sets is the value of Deandre Ayton, who is an offensive threat at the center position.
In this clip, Okobo points to his chin to signal the action. Okobo passes to Booker and cuts over the weak side. The optimal design of this set is playing Booker at the 2 and running a Booker – Ayton PnR up top.
With the Mavericks switching the action, it creates a “pick your poison” situation, as both Ayton and Booker have the ability to attack the switch.
Kokoskov has also run Booker as the primary ball-handler frequently this season. This is a more in-depth look at Booker running the offense as Kokoskov instructs him to run a counter in their ‘Chin’ series where they try to get Warren on the back-door cut.
An action the Suns have run in the past, and is common across the NBA, is Kokoskov’s ‘0’ set. This is the set run with Slovenia where they set up the shooter and screener in a stagger. The screener then sets a down-screen for the shooter.
With Slovenia, Kokoskov ran the set with more of a playmaker coming off the down-screen, which allowed the set to flow into better secondary options. With the Suns, Kokoskov has elected to use Anderson or Ariza coming off the down-screen as the shooter a majority of the time.
In this clip Canaan puts up the ‘0,’ signaling the action.
Studying Ariza’s shot chart, the Suns might be better off flipping the action and creating an opportunity for Ariza to shoot from the right wing instead.
It is a small sample size, but Ariza is shooting 71% from the right wing compared to 20% from the left wing.
One good secondary option is the wing PnR with a pass back to the lead guard, as Ariza is not able to get a shot off or attack the rim.
The Suns also have plenty of options at the wing position this season to play in an off-ball role, allowing them to get away with playing Ariza and Anderson as the shooters in this set. In this clip, Josh Jackson is able to take advantage of the spacing that is created after running the action.
Kokoskov has continued to install many of the same actions that worked for him this summer with Slovenia. For the Suns to take the next to step as an organization, it will be about finding the best players that fit the system through free agency and the draft.
The Suns now have an identity. It will take time and there will many bumps along the way, but if the organization stays patient and builds a roster to fit the system, the Suns should have a bright future ahead of them.
Cover graphic by Aidan Lising