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Kenny Atkinson sets expectations for Jahlil Okafor’s home debut

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Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — It’s ‘Free Jah’ Day!

Since coming over to Brooklyn a month ago, Jahlil Okafor has played in just one game with 13 DNP-CD’s. Kenny Atkinson said a few weeks back that Okafor would be sidelined until further notice so he could get in game shape and learn the system. Now, Okafor appears ready to go.

“I just (said) stay within our structure, stay with what we’re doing and really just get out there and play,” Atkinson said when asked about whether Okafor might want to force the issue after sitting for so long. “I think he’s just got to feel the rhythm, feel the game. For me, we totally understand where he’s coming from and how it takes time to get your rhythm.

“But listen, he’s looked good in our lead up here. We’ve tried to create a lot of game situations for him. He’s played in a lot of big games. It’s not like this guy is some guy we got off the street. He’s played in a lot of big games. It’s just a matter of him catching the rhythm of an NBA game, the speed and all that.”

The major question with Okafor in Brooklyn is how he’ll fit into the pace and space offense – a fast-paced, 3-point savvy offensive system. He’s only 1-for-8 from deep in 2.5 seasons as an NBA player. Atkinson claims that he’s been trying to get the ball inside the paint more – with or without Okafor.

”I’ve been begging our guys to throw it in there more. Again, it’s not just for him to score, it’s to throw it in and cut, throw it in and screen away. It doesn’t always necessarily have to be for a score.

“You see we throw it to Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] on the block and he faces up and makes plays. Listen, I think we’re going to use his strengths and that’s going to take time for him to figure out where he fits in our offense and us to figure him out, but we will throw it to him on the block.”

He elaborated on where Okafor will get most of his touches.

“It’s his job, we run our first big to the rim and block to block unlike a lot of teams, so there’s going to be opportunity for him to touch it there. But again, you got to work for it. I think our guys will throw him the ball. He’s proven that he can score in the post in this league, so there’s no ‘hey don’t do that, let’s use your strengths. Let’s touch it.’ You can use the post to score, but also to get guys shots.”

As for playing time, Atkinson said he spoke with the performance team and they have an idea of how much he should get. Moreover, he explained, it’s about earning it just like everybody else on the roster.

“I’m not going to give you a minute. I have something in my mind, something we’ve talked to the performance team about. I do think you should expect a progression. He’s played great, he’s feeling great, we’re communicating, it could go up, there’s not like a set in stone number. He’ll get minutes but more minutes? You have to earn those minutes. That’s for everyone, one through 15 on our team, it doesn’t matter who it is. He plays well, minutes will increase, that’s just how we roll.”

All in all, don’t set expectations too high. He’s played three games in the last three months for a total of 48 minutes. The Nets are going to ease him in. But at the very least, Jah is freed now (and hopefully) going forward.