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Atkinson’s training camp surprises: Bennett, Harris and Hamilton

Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets didn’t make a ton of sexy acquisitions this off-season, which would explain, you know, a lot…

However, the really early (really really…really early) returns on the especially under-the-radar signings are now in and they’re favorable, particularly from head coach Kenny Atkinson.

Former 2014 second round draft choice and University of Virginia alum Joe Harris has been one of the least talked about Nets on the roster, but has left quite the impression on Atkinson to this point.

"Joe Harris has been a bit of a surprise," Atkinson said. "I liked him when he played in Cleveland. Comes from a strong program, a defensive (minded) program at UVA with Tony Bennett. We brought him in and you don’t know if it’s a surprise or if he’s getting an opportunity. He fits our style of play."

Another previous second round selection, center Justin Hamilton, is one of the back-up big men on the Nets roster, and brings an intriguing skill set into the fray with his 7-foot, 265-pound frame, and an ability to stretch the floor with his range. The latter caught Atkinson’s eye at Saturday’s open practice at LIU-Brooklyn.

"I think he hit four three’s at the end of the scrimmage the other day – bang, bang, bang – three or four three’s," he said. "Here’s a guy that was playing in Valencia, ACB (the Spanish League] …I went over to watch him play so I got a feel. I’ve been watching him for a couple of years now. He’s been another surprise, I’m really happy with his play so far."

Atkinson pointed to Hamilton as example of why he tries to keep track of overseas talent. Overall, the Nets have been going great lengths, literally, to give players chances that other organizations may not be so willing to give.

Players like Harris and Hamilton who have moved around certainly fit the description, as does someone Atkinson spoke a little more extensively about, former number-one overall pick Anthony Bennett.

Months back, the Nets were privately working out Bennett every day for three consecutive weeks before agreeing to sign him on a short term contract. The Nets were able to gauge his progress and see firsthand whether or not Bennett had something left to give in hopes of erasing the unwanted ‘bust’ tag.

Bennett has slimmed down tremendously, looking to be in his best shape ever, and Atkinson could not be more pleased with Bennet’s commitment to getting in shape.

"The three weeks were huge, he came in on his own, I think he was looking for an opportunity and sniffed it," Atkinson said. "We encouraged him to come in, get some shots up in our gym, we got a feel for him, he impressed in the time he was here. He came in in pretty good shape and worked his way and kept working and we said ‘this is a guy we should take a chance on.’"

"I would love him to be a dual threat, like a roll to the rim, dunk, pick-and-pop and three," Atkinson added. "The essentials are to rebound and run, I think those are two elite skills he has. The great thing about him is that in the new NBA, he’s kind of like that undersized middle linebacker — he’s long and fast. Even though he’s not seven foot, he can move in this league because agile and athletic and definitely a good system fit for us."

Rookie first round draft pick Caris LeVert was seen shooting around at practice today, but still isn’t expected to get in game action in any immediate future. Atkinson provided an update on his extremely versatile wing player, who will eventually make his highly anticipated debut this season.

"Yeah he’s about to strangle the coaching staff," Atkinson said jokingly of LeVert. "I think we’re being smart, we’re listening to everybody, our doctors, our performance staff, he’s anxious but again, we just think it’s a smart approach with a young player. He’s had previous injuries so we’re being smart."

So, no timetable, at least not yet.