The chant started near the Nets bench in the first half, but it could be heard throughout the arena. “Ok-a-for! Ok-a-for!” the fans rhythmically intoned. Kenny Atkinson paid them no mind. He’s a man with a plan.
Although Jahlil Okafor was active on Tuesday, he did not play. Kenny Atkinson essentially hinted at his decision before tip-off, then discussed the details of his interactions with his newly acquired center.
All 12 and a half minutes of it.
“I’ve talked to him for exactly 12 and a half minutes or so,” he joked at the presser. “I’m the type of coach where it takes a while to get to know a person. I think it’ll reveal itself.”
Atkinson also discussed Okafor’s comments from his introduction to the Brooklyn media on Monday afternoon, where the Duke product spoke about his hunger, desire and motivation to make an impact upon his return.
“I know he said he’s very hungry and that he has a chip on his shoulder, that’s great,” Atkinson remarked. “I just can’t wait to develop the relationship. Our single goal for our staff is ‘how can we help this guy to achieve the success that he believes he deserves?’ That’s kind of where I am. For me to say ‘hey, after a couple of minutes talking to him I’m not going to go out on a limb like that.”
But playing will have to wait until the 21-year-old masters the motion offense and defensive schemes, something that will have more than 12 and a half minutes to master. Okafor and Nik Stauskas, who also arrived from Philadelphia, both seemed to say they understand that the long term goal is more important than playing on first night.
On Monday, both Okafor and Stauskas lent voice to the Nets being very involved with player development. Stauskas even pointed to the Nets doing it more so than Philadelphia, which he didn’t intend to highlight as a knock on their former club, but as a testament to the Nets, and coach Atkinson, who evidently made his presence felt instantly.
“Yeah we were definitely hands on,” said Atkinson. “I told (Okafor) it was like the first day of school. We had to go to orientation – we put him through the ringer, and I think we’re anxious to get to know him better. Him and Nik (Stauskas) had a great first day of physical evaluation. For basketball evaluation, just a lot of stuff to do. So we put a lot on their plate that first day.”
Regarding Okafor’s once bright turned tumultuous time in Philadelphia, Atkinson elected not to comment much, saying it was in the past.
“I really don’t want to comment on what happened there and their situation,” he said. “It would be irresponsible of me to judge what went on in Philly. It’s a clean slate, a clean page. Look at it from our perspective, our prism. That’s kind of how I work. I just know we’re excited about the opportunity of a young player that’s hungry and has a chip on his shoulder. What happened in Philly is in the past for me.”
And of course, perhaps what everyone would like to get to the bottom of: the fit.
How does Okafor, a classic, prototypical back-to-the-basket center fit with the Nets’ pace-and-space style of play? Well, unless he’s become Brook Lopez in the dark, it would appear he does not. Atkinson insists that, as Tupac said before his verse on “Runnin”, ‘it’s on me.’
“It’s my job as a coach and as a staff to help him fit into the system,” Atkinson said of merging Okafor’s ability with the Nets. “He’s a talented player, a very willing passer, we do play through the post, it’s part of our system and maybe you’ll see us playing through there a little more with him. It’s my job to figure out how to integrate him best and figure out how’s the best way he could help the team.”
Now, the question is, when will we see him, and Stauskas?
Atkinson said ‘never say never’ before Tuesday’s win against Washington. But the game was close throughout and both Tyler Zeller and Jarrett Allen had solid games. So when will be see him? Perhaps Thursday against New York and the fan drafted immediately afterwards that June night in Barclays Center, Kristaps Porzingis?
- Jahlil Okafor can relish his first chance to be an underdog - Brian Lewis - New York Post