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Rocket Men: Is Brooklyn emulating Houston’s offense?

NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Are Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson modeling the Nets after Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets?

Don’t be so dismissive! Have some imagination! No, the Nets are nowhere near as successful as the Rockets were last season. In fact, they were polar opposites, except in style. There are plenty of indicators the Nets would like to emulate the Rockets.

Don’t believe us? Listen to Kenny Atkinson. Atkinson has long praised the Rockets’ coach and his former boss, Mike D’Antoni, for changing the game. Atkinson has said D’Antoni “revolutionized” basketball.

“I love Mike. He’s a huge, huge influence on me and a wonderful person. He’s doing a great job here (Houston). I’m happy for him. Mike has a great sense of humor, one of the best, a West Virginia gunslinger. He’s the best, a brilliant basketball mind, and I loved every second that I was with him.”

And In his first season with Brooklyn, Atkinson established a system predicated on the same pace, ball movement, and three-point shooting so reminiscent of the D’Antoni offense. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Atkinson was an assistant coach under D’Antoni for four seasons with the Knicks. It would have been a surprise not to see such similarities in their teams’ offensive systems.

For example, Houston led the NBA with 40.3 three-point field-goal attempts per game last season. Brooklyn, under Atkinson, wasn’t far behind, putting up 31.6 three point attempts , fourth most in the NBA. Problem was Houston hit 35.7 percent of its shots, Brooklyn hit only 33.8 percent, finished 25th overall.

With the addition of shooters such as Allen Crabbe, D’Angelo Russell, and Demarre Carroll as well as, internal improvement from Jeremy Lin, Caris LeVert, Isaiah Whitehead and Spencer Dinwiddie, the Nets should boast a higher three-point percentage as a team in 2017-2018. Lin has said he thinks he can go from 37 percent to over 40 ... and play more games. Crabbe was the second best three-pointer shooter in the NBA last season.

It doesn’t end with the system. You can also see (if you look hard enough) some similarities between type of players the Nets have picked up since Atkinson took over and those D’Antoni has always favored.

Back in Phoenix, where D’Antoni honed his “7 Seconds or Less” offense, Steve Nash was the lead guard who dominated under the D’Antoni offense. When D’Antoni made his way to New York, he pulled Jeremy Lin off the bench —at Atkinson’s suggestion— and ‘Linsanity’ was born. Lin is not Nash, but again, it’s not so much about their comparative success. It’s about the type and style of game they play.

Take it just a little farther, give it a little more imagination. Last season, James Harden commanded D’Antoni’s pace-and-space offense and his numbers soared. Averaging a career-high in points, rebounds and assists, Harden finished second in the MVP voting. Now, it’s D’Angelo Russell’s turn. Can he replicate even a little of Harden in Brooklyn?

As a 6’5 lead guard, with a smooth shooting stroke, and an innate ability to pass the ball, Russell has drawn countless Harden comparisons since he was drafted in 2015. Interestingly enough, Russell’s stats in his first two seasons stack up nicely when compared to Harden’s. At 21 years old and in his second season, Russell averaged 16 points, five rebounds, and four assists in 29 minutes per game. At 22 years old and in his third season, Harden produced 17 points, 4 assists, and 4 assists in 31 minutes per game.

Of course, Harden manufactured these numbers alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City while D-Lo has yet to play with anyone on that level. Is it out of the question that Russell can make a similar jump to stardom as ‘the man’ in Brooklyn as Harden did in Houston? Expect Atkinson to push it.

From a personnel standpoint, there are other similarities between Brooklyn and Houston. Here’s two examples...

Can Caris LeVert be a Trevor Ariza type player? At 6’7 with a 7’0 wingspan, LeVert has tantalizing potential as a playmaking, two-way wing. The main question in LeVert’s game is his ability to shoot from deep. In his rookie season coming off his third foot surgery, the 22-year-old was inconsistent from behind the arc; shooting 32.1% from three.

Ariza, on the other hand, is a career 35.1% three-point shooter, but he didn’t start that way. It took him years to develop a three-ball. If LeVert can shoot at least 35% from deep and continue his , he could fulfill, and maybe even surpass, the Ariza role of a ‘3&D’ wing in Brooklyn.

Then there’s Jarrett Allen, the Nets No. 22 selection out of Texas in the 2017 Draft. Throughout the draft process, some evaluators believed Allen could be a ‘Clint Capela type’ player.

ESPN Draft Guru Mike Schmitz was one of them, writing,

“Allen is a physical specimen full of raw talent, yet it’s not clear what his exact role will be in the NBA. With measurements very similar to Clint Capela, Allen could act as a similar rim-runner, finisher and shot-blocker with switch potential. To go along with his go-go-gadget 7’5’ wingspan and massive hands, Allen has natural touch and impressive agility for his size.”

At 6’11”, with great mobility and athleticism, Allen could excel playing high pick-and-roll in a four-out, one-in offense. At 19 years old, Allen is still very raw, and might not be a regular contributor for a couple of years, but Capela also entered the league extremely inexperienced and developed nicely behind Dwight Howard.

Both Allen and Capela fit the mold of the modern day center; someone that’s athletic enough to switch out onto the perimeter, protect the rim, and play that ‘lobs and blocks’ role on offense.

With D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, the Nets have three intriguing young players that fit the "D’Antoni offense" like a glove. Will they be as skilled? And will the Nets find others to make the match?

Since Marks took over as GM in Spring of 2016, only one player has remained on the roster; Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. It is clear Marks and Atkinson are making Brooklyn their own and have a vision in place for the future. With the recent moves and acquisition, Houston looks like the blueprint, although no one will say it definitively.

And of course, if the Nets are called upon to help facilitate a Carmelo Anthony move to the Rockets, a D’Antoni acolyte might wind up in Brooklyn, further enhancing the comparison.

The Nets have begun to put the pieces in place to have a high octane offense and a sustainable defense. D’Antoni is an offensive genius. Atkinson cares more about defense than his mentor.

Brooklyn isn’t going to pour it on like Houston did so often last year and like the Suns did when D’Antoni ran that shop, but there are elements of the same system evolving at Barclays Center. At the very least, it should be a lot more fun.