So, about that new starting line-up?
You know, the one we saw unveiled for the first time Wednesday night in a loss to the Knicks. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was at the four and Isaiah Whitehead at point guard.
Well, Kenny Atkinson is always looking for positives.
Earlier in Thursday’s practice, he told a wide group of media, larger than the Nets have had at most practices this season, that he’s a fan of the new look, and would like to see it more often. And since it is his decision...
"Not sure that's what we're going to do (moving forward) but I saw a lot of good things," Atkinson said nodding his head.
Atkinson notably offered praise for the young Hollis-Jefferson, who was tasked with guarding the dynamic 7’3” Kristaps Porzingis. Early on, it worked pretty well.
“I liked Rondae, he's playing really well right now,” Atkinson said of his versatile Arizona product. “He has good defensive instincts. I thought he did a good job on Porzingis – closing out to him and running him off the line. Rondae's an excellent post defender if you watch everyone of the post ups from last night. He rebounds at a high level.”
Hollis-Jefferson finished his return to the starting five with a team-highs in points and rebounds with 16 and eight, along with three assists and one block in 29 minutes. The 6’7” forward wasn’t the only one of the Four for the Future who Atkinson was pleased about.
Whitehead, who played 23 minutes at the point, only shot 2-of-9 from the floor to finish with four points, but also had four rebounds, four assists and the team’s best +/- at 11. "I thought he played really well,” Atkinson noted of his Coney Island-born rook. “He didn't shoot it great, made a couple rookie mistakes, but for the most part I liked it (the new line-up). My gut is you can see more of it."
The man who sat on the bench as Hollis-Jefferson moved to center court Monday has played as a reserve most of his career, starting only six games last year. So, this has been Trevor Book’s first gig as an everyday starter The 6’8” Booker is statistically having his best season, averaging about 10 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest. Per 36 minutes, Booker is also posting career-highs with 13.5 points and 11.7 boards.
In spite of all that, Booker handled the line-up change well, says Atkinson, who felt the team needed a new look after a bad month."He's one of my favorites,” Atkinson glowed about Booker, who had 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block in 16 minutes.
“You have your pets, he's one of my pets. He's a team guy – he's been that way since day one. He was kind of excited like 'let me get out there with that young group.' I thought he did a good job and I just love his demeanor, his attitude. He fits everything we're trying to do."
But what about the state of the Nets? After all, that loss to the Knicks wasn’t just any loss. Atkinson said this practice on the day after a late collapse against their crosstown rival was particularly critical, and productive. The aim was to get the message across to limit the errors, especially late in games.
"This morning we tried to hash it out: we've got to cut down on these mistakes because at the end of the day they cost you and they cost you big time,” said the first-year head coach. "I do feel really in my heart that we're improving,” an optimistic Atkinson added. “It's hard to see because fans and media wonder 'how could this guy say that? They have nine wins or whatever' but I do feel like there's improvement happening."
As for progress, we’ll just have to let the process make its way.