It's early—five games into the season early—but the early returns on this new look Brooklyn Nets team are good. The measuring stick for "good" is relative to the fact that the Nets have the second lowest payroll in the NBA and were expected by many to win less than 20 games this season. However, Brooklyn has jumped out to two wins in their first five contests and have been competitive in three of its four losses, a testament to their ability to play hard despite being overpowered by talent.
One player that has exceeded expectations throughout the first two weeks of the season has been Sean Kilpatrick . It seems Kilpatrick has bought into the Nets new culture by working hard and fine tuning his game (and his body) over the offseason. The results are huge. In what will be his first full season in the NBA, Kilpatrick is averaging 17 points and four rebounds while shooting 45% from the field (41% from three-point range) after the Nets game against the Hornets Friday night.
Last season when Brooklyn called him up from the D-League, Kilpatrick was seenas a gunner who can spark energy for a slow-paced team... but could also shoot the Nets right out of the game. This season, Kilpatrick has acquainted himself with the Nets motion offense and has enjoyed the open looks off ball movement and fine passing.
Head coach Kenny Atkinson's installment of this motion offense has plenty of off-ball screens and dribble drives has moved the opposition's defense all over the floor and has yielded great looks for the Nets wing players, as seen in the play above. The set starts off with an off-ball screen for Bojan Bogdanovic, who gets into the teeth of the defense. Bogdanovic is then met by four Buck defenders, leaving Luis Scola uncontested in the corner. The veteran then sees a wide open Kilpatrick for the easy three. The Nets constant motion has led to many perimeter looks like this. Brooklyn is averaging 32 shots per game from long range this season, third most in the league.
What has been apparent is Kilpatrick's maturation as a player over the past several months. Kilpatrick has limited his poor shots and has made a commitment to getting a good look. While taking into account it's only been five games, Kilpatrick has done a fine job of getting to the rim and avoiding mid-range jumpers. About 34% of the Cincinnati product's shots have come inside of three feet, while another 37% are coming from beyond the arc. Kilpatrick is getting past his defender with relative ease thus far, and getting all the way to the rack to finish. A developing off-the-dribble game is crucial for a player with his ability to get hot.
Now this, this is a healthy shot chart.
And this, this is a nice drive to the rim.
Does Kilpatrick pound the rock a little too much? A bit, but it is possible that on a roster such as this, Atkinson is promoting players, testing their abilities and letting them feel the game out for themselves. Kilpatrick, as seen in the Nets win over the Pacers last week, has the ability to put the game in his hands, and Iit appears Atkinson wants to see lot of tthat this season.
Not to mention, Kipatrick's off the dribble game has led to more trips to the charity stripe. The 6'4" swingman has already gone to the line 28 times this season (24-of-28 so far) which is already a quarter the amount of times he went all of last season in 56 games. Kilpatrick's ability to get to the line is something we haven't seen from him in his short stint in the league, but this is a great trend nonetheless as the season begins.
The current state of the Nets leaves the coaching staff in an interesting position as they can try and plug players in different positions to see if something clicks. One example of this has been Atkinson's use of Kilpatrick at point guard. Kilpatrick has spent 12% of his time on the floor at the point this season, per Basketball Reference.
While he may be a turnover prone, the Nets are now without a starting point guard in Jeremy Lin and are going to lean on others beside Greivis Vasquez,who has his own nagging injuries. Kilpatrick may not be a point guard by trade, but he can be a stopgap at the one off the bench. He did note leading up to the season that he wanted to become a "more all-around player" and emphasized doing whatever he can to make the team better. The commitment is there, and it seems to be paying off for him.
"Sean likes to think of himself as a scorer, and I know he scored in the D-League," Atkinson said. "But our player emphasis is to help him get better defensively. I think he can be better than he already is. He has size, and he’s got toughness."
It is very early to tell, and he may be prone for a drop off in the coming weeks, but Kilpatrick has certainly caught the attention of many with his start to the season. While many looked down on the Nets this season, this is how rebuilds work. You have to start from the bottom and try to find assets in the D-League, among other places, that can catch in the right system.
As he has said,it's a process.
"I want to be a more all-around player," Kilpatrick said in preseason. "I think that’s something that will help this team and I want to continue to keep defending and being able to rebound. Rebounding for a big guard, I think that’s something that will help our team. Me being the tough guy I am, I think that’s something that will help. I want to keep developing and learning."