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Atkinson emphasizes defense on first day of camp

Brooklyn Nets

After playing miserable defense most of last season, something clicked near the end of the season... and the Nets won 11 of their last 24 games. Part of the reason was Jeremy Lin’s return to the starting lineup and Caris LeVert’s development, but it was more than that.

“It clicked for us as an organization in the back half of last season: This is how we should play our defense,’’ Jeremy Lin told writers at the U.S. Naval Academy Tuesday, the first day of practice.

Other teams took notice.

“They did a really good job at the end of the season. All we talked about this morning and watched video of was all about defense first,” Timofey Mozgov said. “How much the team gives energy on the defensive end is the most important thing.”

The change was dramatic with the team going from 28th in D before the All-Star Break to eighth after. Now, the issue is getting the team’s new scorers to buy in.

Kenny Atkinson said he believes that D’Angelo Russell and Allen Crabbe, both with terrible defensive ratings, have the potential to get better.

They’re more than capable defenders,’’ Atkinson said. “Allen was good his first two years in the NBA defensively. We’ve just got to challenge him. I noticed [Tuesday] when you push him a little defensively, he responded. That’s on us: What are our priorities?

“D’Angelo’s still a young guy. Part of this is his physical development. He’s got to get stronger. He knows it, we know it. That’s going to help him. He’s got a great steal rate, great instincts… I believe in the upside if those two guys.”

Atkinson also hinted that their ability to play defense —and overall maturity— is going to be a factor in if they start and how many minutes they’ll play. After all, LeVert and the third big addition, DeMarre Carroll, are already solid defenders.

“Caris is going to make it hard on me, he’s going to make it hard for the guys he’s competing against,” Atkinson noted. The coach also said that long-term development will be part of his decision on who starts, who plays, but it’s not the defining issue.

“We have to do what’s best for the team at the end of the day,” Atkinson said. “I’m not going to look at the media guide and say, ‘He’s 22. We’re going to play him,’ and the other guy is playing better. I’m not going to do that. Let’s see how it works out.”

There were other tidbits from the Post and Newsday’s coverage of the first day of practice.

Tyler Zeller, who’s taken only two three-pointers in the last five years —and didn’t make either— was seen taking and making treys.

The Nets scrimmaged four or five times Tuesday, but mixed and matched personnel, and likely will scrimmage more than in last year’s camp.

Mozgov sat out the early scrimmages. No injury, just some rest. In the last 10 days, the big Russian has flown from Istanbul to Moscow to Los Angeles and finally New York.

The team did meet-and-greets with Navy midshipmen with Lin the target of a lot of selfies, particularly for Asian-American students at the academy.

Atkinson spoke about why the team decided to practice at Annapolis.

“Above all, their self-discipline, just how difficult it is, time management. It’s a lot of habits, a lot of the same stuff we talk about,” Atkinson said of the middies. “But to be in that environment, and on top of that in a beautiful little city, and close to New York — it wasn’t a 10-hour ride — I’m thrilled. It’s the first day, but this was a home run.”

How did it come about. The Baltimore Sun’s Bill Wanger wrote about it Tuesday...

Jordan Ott, an assistant coach with the Nets, served as the video coordinator for Penn State men’s basketball when (current Navy coach) Ed DeChellis was head coach there. Ott reached out to DeChellis and asked about the possibility of Brooklyn holding training camp at the academy.

DeChellis obtained permission from Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk and other Naval Academy administrators. Having gotten the green light to proceed, the Nets sent two staff members — Director of Player Performance Zach Weatherford and Director of Player Personnel Ryan Gisriel — to the Naval Academy to inspect the basketball facilities.

Weatherford, of course, knows from the Navy. He ran the Navy SEALS training program for years. It was he who pushed hardest.