clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Kenny Atkinson: Roster, not system, will dictate Brooklyn Nets' offense, defense

New, comments
Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn Nets
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

In an interview marked by its depth --and intelligence -- Kenny Atkinson told ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz that he will not be relying on a "system" to drive his offensive and defensive strategies. Instead, it will be the strengths of his roster that will determine how the Nets play the game.

There was almost no discussion of individual players in the half-hour interview. It was more about coaching philosophy and culture.

"I'm definitely not a systems guy," said Atkinson. "I just love Mike D'antoni's offense, love it. You know, in a beautiful world, spreading the court like that, that would be utopia but I think I'm intelligent enough to understand your players, your players' strengths -- and I'm still discovering our roster -- and if that means slowing the ball down and pounding it inside and that's best for our team and best for our roster, that's what we're going to do...

"I think defensively the same thing, he added. "The Atlanta Hawks run an aggressive, turnover-causing machine ... active and super aggressive. And then you think, 'does that filt the Brooklyn Nets? Is it the Portland Trail Blazers, where we are sitting back more, guarding the three more."

The interview delved into the intricacies of coaching in today's NBA.  In particularly telling exchange, Atkinson agreed with Arnovitz that emotional intelligence' --the development of interpersonal relations and confidence-- is the next frontier in coaching NBA players.

"I think as coaches, there's a big learning curve there. I think we are just scratching the surface of emotional intelligence," he argued. "I think you are going to see more professionals, I would say sports psychology is a growth area because I think there is a limit to what coaches can do there."

Atkinson spoke as well about management, how it's a challenge. He related how Zach Weatherford, the head of the Nets' performance team, spent so much of one daily coaches meeting on progress in his area that he had one of his assistant coaches put a timer on Weatherford the next meeting.

"We have to streamline this, get it down to where I can manage it," said Atkinson of all the data flowing in from the Nets' new, larger staffs. "I can listen to it, and manage it. Si I think it's going to be an ongoing process.  as the season goes on, as we figure out our roster, where we need to get better, and deciding again what are the priorities, like what are the essential things and filtering out the rest."

Bottom line across the board, he said repeatedly, are the players. It's not just about their current strengths and weaknesses, but how they can be developed technically as well as emotionally.  Noting that he is still "discovering our roster," Atkinson described how he sees "player development."

"i use two words, 'total approach.' It's the on-court stuff, it's the performance stuff, it's the medical stuff, taking care of the whole of the player not just the technical part, where you're keeping an eye on all the pieces of the pie that makes a whole player, that makes an excellent player."

Here's some other highlights, including his comments on Brooklyn.

On his biggest surprise...

"The biggest surprise. wow, just the enormity of starting a program and prioritize what the important things are... just the enormity of the whole task. the first thing is the players.  part of our culture, our mantra with Brooklyn, which is much
what it was in Atlanta, that is, the players first.

"When its a roster of 15 guys, it's like having 15 kids. so it's texting, making sure they're getting their workouts, making sure they're getting up to speed on what kind of offense we're going to run next year and what kind of defense and
then, along with the players, there's their families and make sure that they're comfortable in Brooklyn, with the Nets, that's first and foremost."

On staffing

"I think when I first got the job, I had in mind the type of guy I wanted for each position, then as I thought more about it, as the process started, and again this was a collaborative process with Sean, but we became more holistic about it and just trying to get the best people.  That's what it really came down to.  What also was important to us was diversity of
ideas. of thought, of culture, getting coaches from different cultures, getting our performance team ... they come from all over the world.  We didn't want eight people who thought as I do."

On managing information.

"I'm thirsty for information.  and I'm thirsty for getting thoughts and ideas that are going to  help our program get better and help our organization get better. So filtering all that.

"We have to streamline this, get it down to where I can manage it. I can listen to it, and manage it. Si I think it's going to be an ongoing process.  as the season goes on, as we figure out our roster, where we need to get better, and deciding again what are the priorities, like what are the essential things and filtering out the rest.

"But when you have a huge staff like we do, and what's going on in the NBA, that's a heck of a challenge... Just trying to find the right balance."

On balancing data and your gut

"One of my fears is that this things starts going fast, those important people in your organization play less of a factor.  I do not want that. So we're going to have to find the right balance."

On changes in the organization's culture

"I think it's exciting, I think it's a different way of thinking than maybe they've had in the past but I come from a very humble point of view that just because we have this great performance team and we have this great analytics team and great coaching staff, there's no magic pill.  It's a little bit experimental.  I'm confident it's going to work. I'm confident in the process but as you know there are no guarantees.

On player development

"Isn't player development coaching? helping players improve?  putting them in a position to succeed?  That's the difference between a 'workout guy' and a 'playver development guy.'  A workout guy is going mindless reps and 'hey, you're getting a good sweat.'  I think player development is really linked to coaching and figuring out the nuances.
on appealing to an intelligence of a player."

On the advantage of getting through to players' intelligence

"I don't know about intelligence but i use two words, 'total approach.' It's the on-court stuff, it's the performance stuff, it's the medical stuff, taking care of the whole of the player not just the technical part, where you're keeping an eye on all the pieces of the pie that makes a whole player, that makes an excellent player. 

"I think i was a little bit ahead of the curve ... I was always looking at what's the next thing in the NBA.  It was just an evolution and most of it was stolen!"

On emotional intelligence in the NBA

"It's much more valued, but we still have a lot to learn. I think as coaches, there's a big learning curve there. I think we are just scratching the surface of emotional intelligence. I think you are going to see more professionals, I would say sports psychology is a growth area because I think there is a limit to what coaches can do there. I couldn't tell you the number of problems with a player --how can I help them emotionally-- again not just the technical part but emotional intelligence."

On character

"The word 'character' is thrown around. We throw it around all the time. what is it?  Character to Kevin is different to Kenny.  What is 'character,' what does that even mean. I think teams are in the process of defining that. what does that mean for an organization. What are the characteristics that make up his emotionally strong player that's going to be able to handle  the pressure, the rigors of an 82-game season, that's going to be able to get along with people every day at the workplace.  So it really should be a higher priority for organizations than it is right now."

On systems coaching

"I'm definitely not a systems guy. I just love Mike D'antoni's offense, love it. You know, in a beautiful world, spreading the court like that, that would be utopia but I think I'm intelligent enough to understand your players, your players' strengths -- and I'm still discovering our roster -- and if that means slowing the ball down and pounding it inside and that's best for our team and best for our roster, that's what we're going to do.

"I think coaches make mistakes being too attached to their system, to 'this is the way we're going to play.' Again, when you talk about experience, I've been in the European system. I've seen Rick Adelman's system, I've seen Mike D'antoni's system. I've see Mike Budenholzer's system. I think, man, can I take pieces of all these.

"I think defensively the same thing. The Atlanta Hawks run an aggressive, turnover-causing machine ... active and super aggressive. And then you think, 'does that filt the Brooklyn Nets? Is it the Portland Trail Blazers, where we are sitting back more, guarding the three more. These are the kind on things we're trying to figure out right now. But definitely, I think it's a mistake if we're saying, 'hey, we're doing this. I don't care who are personnel is and we're going to go for it.' I just don't believe in that."

On Brooklyn

"During the [job] interview, I was asked, where you going to live? I said, If I'm going to coach in Brooklyn, I'm going to live in Brooklyn. I've really encouraged our staff, our players to do the same. I'm honestly blown away by Brooklyn...

"The second day I was on the job, I was at my kids' playground and my son is playing basketball and my daughter is on the monkey bars and these two guys sort of mosey on over. I can see them looking at their phones and they're like 'Welcome to Brooklyn. we're season ticket holders. We love the team, and it was really cool in this small little neighborhood, these two guys in their 30's, with kids, they were really into it."