For all the (fans’) discussion of who will be the lead guard on the Nets this season, there’s one voice that needs to be heeded. Kenny Atkinson’s. And for him, the resolution of the dialogue doesn’t end with either Jeremy Lin nor D’Angelo Russell.
In talking with Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN and Kristian Winfield of SB Nation in Las Vegas Saturday, Atkinson said he expects everyone to touch the ball.
As Youngmisuk notes on ESPN, talking about the Nets last game in Summer League...
“Down the stretch, Kenny Atkinson had five guys who can handle ball on the floor. Nets gave Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert plenty of opportunities to handle the ball, create and distribute. Look for more of this from multiple guys this season.
"That's eventually the way we would love to [play], in a perfect world where multiple ball-handlers, different guys are bringing it up," Atkinson said. "Hopefully we will see that in the regular season, that we are sharing the ball and it will not be one guy dominating the ball. That is not the way we want to play."
Winfield got the same message from the Nets head coach...
“I think Brad Stevens said this the other day: We don’t even look at the roster like 1-2-3-4-5. We have our smalls, our perimeters that can handle the ball. Then we have our wings, then you have your shooting bigs and your rolling bigs. It’s like, I don’t anticipate any problems.
The way we play offense, it’s very conducive to both of them getting enough touches. You look at C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard — and I don’t want to compare the players — but they end up both playing a ton of point guard. They just stagger the minutes. So believe me, there’s gonna be enough minutes, enough touches for both of those guys.
Atkinson also gave Winfield an example of how the change could affect other players’ roles. He’s said he told Isaiah Whitehead, who played the 1 last season, “you’re a 2, you can play some 3 because you’re so darn big.” Atkinson suggested a Marcus Smart role might work for the second year player.
But fans being fans (and by no means coaches) have debated the lead guard question for weeks, since the Nets obtained Russell in trade made official on Draft Night. It intensified this week. But it’s not something that seems to have troubled the two protagonists, Lin and Russell.
In a Periscope recording Sunday morning from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, said he really doesn’t know how it will work, but he didn’t seem troubled by it. In fact, he liked the idea of a wide-open backcourt.
“He's good. Got a chance to meet him out in Vegas for Summer League ... I can't wait to play with him. We're going to do some serious damage next year...
"I’m going to be at the 1 and he'll be at the 2,” he said, then pausing. “I'm really not sure to be honest. I'm pretty sure he will start at the 2, but it will be pretty interchangeable. Then, when one of us is out of the game, the other will most likely have the ball in their hands, So it'll be a little bit Kemba-ballesque. kinda a little me-and-Kembaish.”
Russell hasn’t spoke much to the media about it all, but when he did, it didn’t seem to be an issue. At the June 26 press conference where he and Timofey Mozgov were introduced, he had this to say...
“Honestly I’ve talked to all the players,” said Russell. “They’ve been great, reached out to me with open arms, J-Lin’s been good too. I’ve talked to him a little bit when I first got here, I haven’t really got to talking to him about playing with him but I’m looking forward to it.”
So not a big deal despite the fan debate. Nor should it be. The Nets didn’t go into the trade without having a plan (or two.) That’s not the way Atkinson and Sean Marks work.
What will things look like when the regularly season opens up in 91 days? We shall see, but no one appears to think it’s a problem. More an opportunity.