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Atkinson looks at performance, the rookie wall ... and rest

NBA: New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

A long NBA season feels longer when you’re last in the Eastern Conference and when development is the top priority.

So, managing health and minutes is essential for Kenny Atkinson and the Nets, especially with the teams’ young guys. While the Jeremy Lin die-hards question the Performance Team after Lin went down with his second (or is it his third) hamstring injury, Atkinson says he feels they’ve been handling the Nets well throughout the rough campaign. In particular, he likes what they've done with the young players.

“I think we take care of them pretty good with our performance team,” Atkinson told a collection of reporters early on Thursday. “(We’ve been) throwing in some rest too. We’re always battling that as coaches, especially this time of the year – ‘how tired are our guys? Are they too tired? Are we doing too much practice? Not enough practice?”

“I definitely think for Isaiah (Whitehead) and Caris (LeVert), this is like starting another college season for them,” continued Atkinson. “They’re battling through it but I do think they’re doing a darn good job, I’m impressed with how they’re playing. Rondae’s a young guy who’s still going through it too.”

RHJ, some forget, missed 50 games last season.

Sean Marks said much the same thing a week ago after the team had to announce Lin aggravated his hamstring while rehabbing.

“(The Performance Team) has done a terrific job,” Marks said. “Not only Jeremy, but through the whole summer, preseason, and during the season, managing guys. You look at a guy like Caris (LeVert), that’s been out two college seasons. Now all of a sudden, he’s back and healthy and playing well. We’ve got numerous examples of how these guys have put their blood, sweat and tears into our guys.”

One way of managing health is with rest, Atkinson noted. Brook Lopez’s minutes have been monitored closely. Lopez himself has said earlier in January that he isn’t really a fan of having to sit games, but understands why the team has him and others do it.

“I worry about Brook. I worry about the minute toll on him,” Atkinson said. “We’ve asked him to do a lot and we have to understand his situation as a group. He doesn’t want that excuse and I don’t want to give it to him, but I think it’s something, to be quite honest, we talk about this time of the year, like how we could keep him as fresh as possible. It’s a constant discussion among us.”

So far, Lopez has “rested” five games this season, all around heavy parts of the schedule, back-to-backs, three games in five days, etc. LeVert has been rested twice since returning to the active roster. Not because of any physical ailment, he and the Nets have said, but because the numbers suggest he should take some time off as he adjusts to an 82-game season after missing 35 games to injury his last two seasons at Michigan.

It’s all about sports science, the integration of training, development, monitoring technologies, analytics, etc. into a data stream that should help the coaching staff figure out optimum rotations, situational substitutions, and yes rest. Adding to that is the Nets’ pace, fastest in the NBA, which can take a toll, again on the rookies.

Despite all the handicaps, starting with the lack of a veteran point guard, Atkinson thinks it works for he best.

“I think in this offense, the ball should find the best players, and I think it does for the most part,” Atkinson said of the team’s scoring. “We’re not a set play team that comes down and calls a set every time. We do have certain sets we try to get to.”

The problem is that with the team in a data-driven development mode, it’s hard to measure the success of the overall performance. Win-Loss doesn’t do it when so many players are young and the system is new. There are indeed bright spots in the performance team’s performance, so to speak, getting LeVert back on the court on schedule being the big one and limiting the number of nagging injuries ... other than Lin’s.

It is something that the Nets are going to prioritize from now on, not just during the development phase of the rebuild. There are frustrations to it, but it’s becoming more and more of a league model.