clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Kenny Atkinson is already proving why he belongs

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a tough game against Charlotte, and coach Kenny Atkinson is clapping and yelling with encouragement after Isaiah Whitehead committed 2-on-1 turnover in transition. Animated off the bench, Atkinson wants to compete but also understands the bigger picture: the future.

That being said, he’s doing all he can to prove why he belongs short term as well as long term and why the Brooklyn Nets are benefiting from it.

We’re only nine games into the season, but it’s fair to say that the Long Island native belongs in this league as a head coach; not to mention the head coach for Brooklyn’s basketball team.

He works hard. Comes prepared. No excuses. That’s what Brooklyn’s supposed to be about.  You know, Brooklyn Grit. That’s what it’s been about with Atkinson thus far.

Lose on the second night of a back to back? No mention of it. No excuses.

Both your starting point guard, backup point guard AND third-string point guard get hurt the first few weeks of the season? That’s not the reason "we" lost.  No excuses.

It’s been truly remarkable that the Nets – predicted to finish bottom three in the NBA – have won 4 of 9 games and have competed for three quarters in all but one (Chicago). None of this matters much because it’s an 82-game season. But all the hype in New York was around the team across the river but the only TEAM (super for not) is the one that plays at Barclays.

The roots for all this start with the coaching staff. As Luis Scola told Woj last month, when he and other players arrive at HSS Training Center, there are 10 guys "waiting to help you. It doesn't get any better than that."They’ve done a phenomenal job having all guys ready to go; having a Plan B and if Plan B doesn’t work, figure out a Plan C.

People are starting to take notice and we’re not even 10 games in.

No Jeremy Lin, Grevis Vasquez or Isaiah Whitehead? Next up: Sean Kilpatrick, the starting point guard of the Brooklyn Nets. This is somebody who’s been in and out of the D-League, and has suddenly emerged as one of the NBA’s best scoring reserves. Now thanks to the development of Atkinson, Kilpatrick has done enough to get the job done.

Kilpatrick, the poster boy for the Nets player development scheme, had only had four assists Saturday, but he helped facilitate the Nets offense – get the win and help the Nets score 122 points – says enough about how well he’s done and how well Kenny’s done in having all of these guys ready for any situation.

"I noticed as soon as Jeremy went out," Kilpatrick said after a victory over Detroit when Lin went out. "I was like, ‘I’m going to have to play the point’ because that was something I did throughout Summer League and Coach did a great job during the summer, making sure that I played the point because you never know when that time is going to come."

See, it was a PLAN.

The Nets won its first road game of the season Saturday in their ninth game.  Last season, it took the Nets 17 games to win four. They had more talent last year. They just didn't have a coach with confidence, a culture to fall back on.

There are plenty of fair excuses to justify the struggles. Not with Kenny Atkinson. The on-court culture change is simple: this is a team effort. No individuals or egos get in the way of the goal at hand. No excuses.

"It’s just been so mutually beneficial," Brook Lopez said of Atkinson Saturday. "We definitely feed off each other and Kenny’s definitely instilled a lot of confidence within myself. It’s been a great two-way street in that regard. I think we’re continuing to learn about each other more and more."

Lopez was rather quiet with a 3-for-11, 11-point performance. Still, he nailed a dagger 3-pointer to go up by 11 late in the game. Over the summer, Atkinson told an audience at a summer camp that he’s most excited to coach Lopez because of his room for improvement.

With Lopez struggling Monday, other guys stepped up. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had his best game of his career with 20 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and great defense..

It’s still early, but still refreshing. Every year in Brooklyn, there’s been so much expectation. Now with everybody counting the Nets out, it’s fun to watch these guys grow together… from the coaching staff to the players to the front office. They have an organized system and fans aren’t gathering the pitchforks after a loss. It’s new.

Many big names have endorsed Atkinson in the young season. Aside from Brooklyn Nets players saying things like, ‘I’d go to battle for him,’ you’ve also had guys like Al Horford and most recently, Carmelo Anthony praising the 49-year-old, noting how after a long if anonymous career on the bench, he deserves to be where he is.

This Nets team may not be the most talented, but under  Kenny Atkinson, each and every one of the 15 guys on the roster are going out there and playing with a chip on their shoulder. They play fast, they play fun and they play together. And for that alone, it’s been quite the shock in Brooklyn and around the NBA.

Although they may have "struck out" in the offseason, Sean Marks’ biggest pick up appears to be the guy he chose to coach the team ... Kenny Atkinson.  No coincidence that the same week Marks hired Atkinson, the organization sought the trademark on "Brooklyn Grit."  It all fits.