It’s sort of buried in Kenny Atkinson’s discussion of the way his team has come close oh so many times without coming away with a win. The Nets, he said, have been focusing on two key elements of the rebuild — development and defense — and now is adding late game execution, aka winning.
“I look at ourselves in the mirror, what we could’ve done better. I could’ve done better as a coach. Even that last play for Spencer. Last year, we weren’t focused as much on end-of-game stuff because we weren’t in ends of games,” said Atkinson. “But now this is great for our development, and for my development and our staff’s. How can we improve our execution?
“You have to have a physicality. It’s more free, so we have to understand that. … We have to figure out how to execute better. We worked on it [Thursday]. Normally, we don’t. We focus on development and defense. But now we’re in a position with our growth where we have to start focusing on that more. I could’ve been better, and there are a few games like that. It’s making us focus on it and improve at it.”
Indeed, the Nets have lost 17 games by 10 points or fewer this season. That means they’ve been in games but can’t close them out. One reason, aside from not focusing on late game execution, is how young the team is. With an average age of 25, the Nets are the NBA’s sixth youngest team and with average tenure of only three and a half seasons, they’re the fourth least experienced.
As Brian Lewis notes, it’s been getting even more intense of late.
Since Dec. 31 in Boston, 11 of their last 13 game have been decided by six points or less. They played a team-record five straight decided by three or fewer before getting blown out by the Pistons on Jan. 10, the longest stretch since the Spurs in 2012-13.
The Nets haven’t been in two back-to-back one-point games, as they have this week, since 2006-07. Moreover, a number of their young players haven’t been with winning teams during their short careers, as we’ve pointed out.
“Each game we’re growing,” DeMarre Carroll said Thursday. “We’re slowly understanding it. Guys are growing up who’ve never been in that position, like Caris [LeVert], Jarrett Allen, even Spencer, guys who’ve never been in that position.
“And Kenny, as a coach he’s growing, too,” added Carroll, who’s been on four straight playoff teams. “He understands now that it’s time to put in end-of-game plays. We’ve never been in this position, so now [we are]. That takes a smart coach to take ownership, point at himself and say, ‘Hey, you know, I haven’t put in end-of-game plays, now it’s time for me to start doing it.’ So my hat goes off to him.”
The Nets aren’t going to be easing off development (or defense). That’s who they are, need to be. But now, with the team’s continued improvement, it seems like the organization is ready for the next step.
- Where Kenny Atkinson is placing blame for late-game failures - Brian Lewis - New York Post