With preseason almost over, Kenny Atkinson says he still doesn’t know what his final rotation looks like.
Two of the more talked about Brooklyn Nets, as it pertains to potential playing time, are shooting guards Bojan Bogdanovic and Sean Kilpatrick, both of whom are few of the Nets’ returnees in a new look roster.
Atkinson sung the praises of his shooting guards after Sunday’s practice, where the immediate futures of Bogdanovic and Kilpatrick in particular, took up a big portion of Sunday’s agenda.
Atkinson was enthusiastic when discussing Bogdanovic, who’s coming off of a huge Olympic summer where he carried Croatia, scoring 24.3 points per game in Olympic qualifying tournament, followed by a blistering 25.3 points per contest, the highest in the Summer Games in 20 years.
"I think he’s going to have a big year," Atkinson said of his star Olympian. "I think he’s ready, doing well in practice, shooting the ball well. We’re pushing him to defend better and rebound better. I think he had a heavier summer than anybody. We’re just taking that into account and just preparing him for the regular season."
"I would think it (Rio) gives him a confidence boost," Atkinson continued in regards to the Summer of Bojan. "To do what he did and to have the success, that could only help him be more aggressive, help him with confidence. I think with his skill level; he’s going to have a certain amount of freedom on offense. My challenge to him is ‘okay, let’s rebound, and let’s really lock-in defensively."
The coach spoke highly as well about Kilpatrick, who like Bogdanovic is in his third year … and who like Bogdanovic is also going to be 27 this season.
"He’s a scorer. We love him aggressive, we want him aggressive – but also it’s got to be within what we’re doing," Atkinson began on Kilpatrick. "We prefer open shots obviously and we’re coaching him there. You don’t want to take away what he does really well so it’s just finding that balance for him – my challenge to him is ‘we need you to defend better, we need you to rebound better.’ That’s really going to earn him more minutes – that goes for all our wings, we need them to defend and rebound."
With the Nets easing Bogdanovic back into their rotation, Net fans have been debating whether or not the 27-year old should start after opening games sparingly during his first two years in the league.
"We have two more games to figure that out and experiment with it but at this point we’re definitely not sure, we’re still weighing things," said Atkinson.
Bogdanovic, who’s averaged 10.1 points in 157 NBA contests (67 starts) says flat out, he doesn’t care as to whether or not he starts. If his NBA tenure to this point serves as any indication, he could do both.
As a starter, Bogdanovic would play with Jeremy Lin, Brook Lopez and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with the remaining slot still (somewhat) in question. Trevor Booker seems to be the favorite at the 4 if Atkinson’s post-game comments at MSG mean anything. Meanwhile, off the bench, Bogdanovic could thrive in a potential sixth man role. He did say ‘the right thing,’ when asked about starting vs. coming off the bench: he insists that it doesn’t make a difference as long as he’s out there.
"It’s no matter to me because in Europe – I was one of the best players and I started from the bench," Bogdanovic, who’s averaged 25.3 minutes per game in two seasons, said Sunday. "For us, for European players, it means nothing. If I’m going to have the minutes, for me it’s doesn’t going to matter whether I start or not – everybody would like to be starting but if I’m not, it’s not a big deal for me."
Kilpatrick, who’s struggled with his shot throughout pre-season, is one of the enigmas on the Nets roster. His role is still unsettled. What role will he serve? As of now, it would seem that he’ll likely play behind Bogdanovic and Randy Foye at the 2. And there’s Joe Harris to consider as well.
With a strong finish to last season, averaging 11.1 points in only 19.9 minutes per game in 31 contests, Kilpatrick was expected to build off-of a solid short season stint. Thus far in four pre-season games, the Cincinnati alum has averaged 8.3 points per 18 minutes of play on 30% shooting from the floor and 30.8% from deep, not what he needs to do. Still, Kilpatrick is taking Atkinson’s advice of becoming an all-around player with great pride, and putting it into practice.
"I just try to do my job, and that’s to come in, grab as many rebounds as I can, be a force on the defensive end and still play within the system, play within my game," he said. "That’s something that coach continues to keep stressing to me about doing. At the end of the day, the scoring is going to come – it’s natural for me, but he (coach Atkinson) wants more so to be an all-around player. He believes that I can do that and that’s something I’m still trying to work on throughout the pre-season."
"I want to be a force on the defensive end and continue to keep being that active guy teams will have to key on like as soon as I get in the game," Kilpatrick continued. "That’s something that we do need (as a team)."
Kilpatrick and Bogdanovic, like everyone else donning the black-and-white, are also striving to adjust to the new offense as quickly and as effectively as possible. Kilpatrick says that while the offense is ‘fun’ to execute, it still comes with a learning curve that’s going to take some time to adapt to. Net fans may or may not want to hear this, but there will be growing pains, and players are cognizant of this.
"You’ve got to get adjusted to what coach wants and adjust to what fits the team, and I think that’s something that all of us are trying to do," he said. "I think everyone is trying to figure out what their spot is and how the offense works, how it benefits the team. When you have coach teaching us in film and us being able to find ways to help on the defensive end I think is something that we look at and say ‘this is something we need to be better on’ because it’s going to help us win games down the road. With him being as hard as he is on us when it does come to film, I think that’s something that we do need, I think it’s good for our program. We have to move with a sense of urgency especially if we want to win in this league."
Because of, you know, everything and everyone else going on within the organization: whether it’s a new coach … and new GM; an unheralded roster with a healthy dose of youth; a dash of veterans; or we wouldn’t be having this conversation if the Heat and Blazers had relented and let the Nets sign Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe.
So, the 2016-17 season, needless to say, isn’t filled with expectations at least if you listen to various pundits on the outside looking in. Bogdanovic echoes a sentiment which is seemingly shared throughout the locker room: they like it this way.
When asked if whether or not he prefers his team to fly under the radar, Bogie simply responded; "Yup…yup," before grinning confidently. "That’s good for us that no one expects nothing from us. We don’t have any pressure on our shoulders so we can play the best we can."
But if they are going to win, Bogdanovic and Kilpatrick are going to have to be big contributors.