The Impact of Kenny Atkinson
As the 21st head coach in Nets franchise history, Kenny Atkinson will look to get the team back to a place of relevancy. Last season, the Nets missed the playoffs for the first time since moving to Brooklyn, and while it seems unlikely they’ll get back there this season, he is the perfect gardener to plant the seeds for something that can grow into something fruitful.
The main thing Atkinson has preached thus far is TEAM. On offense, he wants to share the ball and avoid contested shots at any cost; after all, there is not a single bonafide superstar on this team to shoulder the load. On defense, it reverts back to focusing around the team as well; coming from the culture of team defense that was utilized so well by the Atlanta Hawks, Atkinson will look to combine those schemes with some great insights from new GM Sean Marks, former assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs. Both teams have reputations on the defensive end that precede them, and the final goal is to add the Nets to the discussion.
In the past, Atkinson has worked under successful head coaches such as Mike Budenholzer and the defense-be-damned Mike D’Antoni. He’s had player development roles with the Houston Rockets, New York Knicks and the aforementioned Hawks, which produced results in every stop along the journey.
The proverbial feather in Atkinson’s cap is the development of Jeremy Lin at the height of Linsanity with the Knicks back in 2012. However, this time around, Atkinson wants Lin to take more of a leadership role with the Nets, as the coach told Frank Isola on SiriusXM NBA Tuesday. Here are some of the highlights as per NetsDaily.com:
“So this is a totally different role for Jeremy. I think part of the reason he came to Brooklyn is to see, to prove to everybody that he can be a starting point guard in this league.”
“We believe it, I and Sean Marks, our GM believe he can do it and I think the second part [of what's different] is the leadership role. Maybe he's the guy coming off the bench in Charlotte in Houston, he was fourth of fifth fiddle, this is a different role, this is a leadership role.”
“It's a great challenge for him. It's a great challenge for our coaching staff to try to help him to make another jump and be a starting point guard in this league.”
“I'll just say one thing about Jeremy's development. I think he took ownership of his own development. I always say coaches don't get players better; players get players better. You're a guide. You can help him, but he took ownership of it and I think that's where he got better.”
While Lin will certainly be a key cog in how the team operates, the identity of this team lies with Brook Lopez, who is second place all-time in scoring for the Nets in franchise history (1,535 points behind Buck Williams for first place). Lopez should produce career-best numbers this season with Thaddeus Young moving on to Indiana, but Atkinson thinks he can be even better than that; it’s on the defensive end and rebounding that he truly wants him to be elite. The other question with Lopez is whether or not he’ll even be a member of the Nets when the season is over. Time will tell, but a player of his stature could certainly return solid assets in a trade.
Diamonds were found during the midst of last year’s rough season, as Bojan Bogdanovic and Sean Kilpatrick established themselves as legitimate scorers. Both guys are slated for massive roles, looking to improve upon the numbers they closed out last season with.
Bogdanovic struggled to crack the lineup on a consistent basis while Joe Johnson was still with the team, but he was basically given free reign of the offense with his departure, scoring 15.2 PPG in 28 MPG over the last 25 games. On a side note, read more here about the whirlwind summer that Bogdanovic had, very bizarre stuff.
Kilpatrick is going to be a star for the Nets, plain and simple. It’s the reason why they hooked him up with a three-year deal prior to this season; so he doesn’t leave and go somewhere else, a mistake that a couple of other teams made with him already. In 23 games with the Nets, Kilpatrick finished with 13.8 PPG over 23.2 MPG. It’s been said that Atkinson will give Bogdanovic a lot of freedom within the offense, so I can imagine the same will go for Kilpatrick with the second unit.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson already has the respect of his new coach, and this could be a match made in heaven since he’ll end up being Atkinson’s favorite player on this roster. “That ‘Brooklyn Grit’ you might call it, rubs off on players,” said RHJ in an interview with NetsDaily. “I think the strategy and the direction that we’re going, it’s really good. I’m really proud of our guys. They’re working hard, putting a lot of effort in.” Unfortunately, RHJ’s rookie season was interrupted 19 games into the season but he was able to return and play in 10 of the last 13 Nets contests.
It’s tough for people outside of Brooklyn (and even inside) to find any hope with this year’s Nets. However, Atkinson is definitely the man for this job. You won’t see it this season, and probably not even the next, but make no mistake about it -