Basketball Insiders asked a few of its writers to name who they think is the best young coach in the NBA. That would be a coach with less than three years NBA head coaching experience.
Benny Nadeau, late of The Brooklyn Game, chose Kenny Atkinson, saying the development-savvy Atkinson is what the Nets need, despite the team’s horrendous record last season.
Utilizing both Lin and his skills learned with the Hawks, Atkinson has been a nice fit for the rebuilding, pick-deficient Nets. His work with both Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has already seen both of their raw abilities expand in just one season at the helm. Additionally, it should come as no surprise that Quincy Acy, Joe Harris and Trevor Booker all had career years after working with Atkinson as well – undoubtedly, this guy knows how to coach, lead and develop a young roster.
Nadeau points as well to how the Nets changed their offense under Atkinson.
Through a summer overhaul, the Nets changed their plodding, iso-style offense to a more modernized version, effectively jacking up the team’s pace and three-point shooting almost overnight.
The biggest evolution came with Brook Lopez, the franchise’s star player since New Jersey drafted him back in 2008. Before Atkinson arrived, Lopez had made exactly three regular season three-pointers in his entire career, but with the encouragement of a new head coach, the center flourished. Lopez made a whopping 134 three-pointers in 2016-17 at a 34.6 percent clip – an outstanding result for a towering big man that had barely even considered that range prior to Atkinson’s hiring.
And as Zach Lowe pointed out in his ESPN profile of the Nets rebuild, the Lopez move permitted Atkinson to use other players in different ways as well, that is, develop them.
Lopez dragged opposing rim protectors far away, unclogging the lane for Brooklyn's slashers. His drift outside freed Atkinson to try Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a total non-shooter, as a small-ball power forward, and even use him as a pick-and-roll screener as Lopez chilled in the corner.
The end of last season, more than anything else, proved with a group of healthy players, Atkinson has the ability to eke out wins even without top-flight talent. Once Jeremy Lin returned, the Nets played .500 or near .500 ball, beating better teams on more than one occasion and complicating the East playoff picture.
This coming season, of course, will be a big test for him and the team. Assuming better health, most pundits and those in-house see the Nets as improved. As Nadeau writes...
With a better all-around roster and, hopefully, a healthy year out of the essential Lin, the Nets will grow once again under the evolving Atkinson, one of the league’s strongest new coaches.
And of course, in terms of the Nets, just having a head coach around for two seasons is a positive!
- NBA PM: Who’s The Best Young NBA Coach? - Basketball Insiders