Kenny Atkinson has quietly build a nice reputation among NBA circles. Players like to play for him.
Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas were officially publicly introduced as Brooklyn Nets Monday and let everyone know their new coach made a good first impression.
“So for our first day here, for Kenny to spend an hour on the court just taking us through skills and drills, it was eye-opening for us just because that’s not something we’re used to in Philly,” said Stauskas.
“Even yesterday, just being out there with coach Kenny, he was actually hands on, instructing the entire workout,” added Okafor. “That was different for me. Usually it’s the assistant coaches who handle that, but to see the head coach out there working with me, helping me shoot, running with me, guarding me a few times, it was different. I enjoyed it.”
Yeah, sounds about right …
“I love coach [Brett] Brown in Philadelphia, but it was definitely a different vibe in Philly where coach Brown wasn’t as hands-on in terms of skill development,” Stauskas agreed. “That was left more to the assistant coaches and the rest of the coaching staff.”
The two players are looking forward to a different kind of basketball, not just practice.
“I haven’t played against them this year, but just watching them play they’re the fastest team in the NBA in terms of pace,” said Okafor following his first practice with the team. “They just play free. A bunch of young guys out there just playing free, playing together, and that’s something I’m excited to be a part of.”
You might think Okafor, the prototypical back-to-the-basket big — a dirty phrase in NBA circles right up there with “old-school”— wouldn’t be thinking about “playing free.” But as a couple of NBA analysts have pointed out, the Nets only average 12.5 fast break points a game. The rest have to come from somewhere.
Okafor averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds as a back-to-the-basket scorer in his rookie year and thinks he can extend his range and expand his game in Brooklyn’s system ... with help from the coaching staff.
“I have tried to extend my range and that’s one of the things I heard about Brooklyn, how good they are at developing players. I’m really excited for that.”
The Duke product and third pick of the 2015 NBA Draft (after D’Angelo Russell) is unclear, for now at least, regarding what his role will be. Not to worry, Atkinson doesn’t arrive at HSS Training Center before dawn for the coffee.