It’s too bad that the playoffs don’t start tomorrow, otherwise the Brooklyn Nets would be the top seed!
But alas, a 3-0 preseason record won’t even get you on the subway. Still, the optimism is raging throughout the Brooklyn fanbase ... and such.
For the Nets players and coaches, they’re downplaying their solid play thus far, and rightfully so. The result doesn’t matter, but the results do.
Head coach Kenny Atkinson doesn’t take any stock in the undefeated tally to this point. What he revels in is the increasing rate of growth and development across his very deep unit. They’ve won their three games by an average margin of 20 points.
“I take stock in that the group has really tried to apply our principles offensively and defensively,” he said at Tuesday’s practice. “The effort, the competitive level has been good. The unity has been good. Forget the record, I take the process in how they approach every day … besides today, we didn’t have a great practice for some reason. It’s part of the NBA.”
We’ve noticed, thanks to social media, conversations and our own intel, that the Nets’ players and coaches spent a lot of time together throughout the course of the offseason.
That camaraderie, established over the course of a long summer, has had a positive and profound impact on the Nets, at least in the early stages of camp, according to Atkinson.
“I think every day counts,” he said. “Every day in the offseason they spent together, that they volunteered to be around each other instead of staying in their own little corners of the world. I think it plays a big part.”
One of the team leaders who has played a key factor in team bonding has been Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the longest tenured Net having been with the organization for a little longer than two years.
The 22-year-old combo forward’s development has been one of the significant topics of discussion, as well as a point of emphasis, for the Nets. They need him to take the next step as a team.
Hollis-Jefferson, whose game improved gradually when he went from the 3 to the 4 last season, is in a good place in the eyes of his head coach.
“He’s doing it defensively – he’s rebounding and I think he’s simplifying his offensive game,” Atkinson said. “He’s moving the ball when he has to move the ball and taking the shot when it’s there. He has a nice balance; I hope that continues.”
RHJ’s seven-point, eight-rebound, defensively sound and hustle-filled outing against the Knicks was a step in the right direction. Atkinson hopes it’s a sign of things to come for “The Hyphen.”
“I’ve really been kind of thrilled with his performance, and that’s from the first day of training camp,” Atkinson said. “He’s matured. I think he’s more leveled, even-keel. I think he’s more consistent. It’ll be huge if he can continue that type of demeanor, that type of approach.”
“I still think his strength is he drives the ball and gets to the free-throw line,” Atkinson continued, speaking of Hollis-Jefferson’s game at this stage. “He’s a facilitator, we’ve seen that he’s a better passer than we think. He’s been facilitating our break. I think we give him a certain amount of freedom to drive it. I like all the other things he’s doing – he’s been a complete player.”
Hollis-Jefferson has also been an integral part of a new small ball look the Nets have attempted to implement.
We’ve seen line-ups that include only Hollis-Jefferson and Trevor Booker, or Quincy Acy subbing for either one of the two, playing the 4 and 5 spots. The small ball line-up is here to stay – and Atkinson likes it … a lot, it seems.
“I like it. We’re so fast,” he remarked. “When those guys are on the floor, Trevor and Rondae, we’ve got a lot of speed on the court. I do like the combination. We’re going to have to see going forward what the best combinations are.”
So, you see that the results of these preseason games may not matter to the coach. It’s the nuances emanating from within the game that will carry out into the season. That’s what actually matters to Atkinson.
So care about the results, but not the result. But try to win that last game, too!