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In the conversation: how Nets and Atkinson have developed MIP candidates

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Kenny Atkinson has turned the Nets into a progressing (not processing) basketball team by turning marginal players into legitimate role players in the NBA.

Although the Nets sit at the bottom of the East, several players have shown why they might be in the conversation for Most Improved Player at season’s end.

Surely, this award is likely to end up with Victor Oladipo, who is averaging career-highs for points per game (24.1), rebounds (5.2), assists (4.1), field goal percentage (48.5 percent) and 3-point field goal percentage (39.6).

He’s lifted the Pacers into a playoff spot more than halfway through the season and he’s shown zero signs of slowing down.

So, take this for what it is. The Nets have some intriguing names that – as of right now – belong on the list for consideration.

Spencer Dinwiddie

Last December, Spencer Dinwiddie was playing for the Windy City Bulls when he put up 25 points and 12 assists against the Long Island Nets at Barclays Center.

He had spent some time with the Detroit Pistons, but played most of his time with their D-League affiliate. He was traded to the Chicago Bulls, but also played most of his time with the D-League affiliate and was waived just before last season.

The Nets scooped Dinwiddie not long after that big game against Long Island, and it’s turned out to be the decision that essentially saved this season from being a total nightmare.

Dinwiddie has suddenly turned into Brooklyn’s new Joe Johnson, currently standing as the most clutch player in the NBA with seven field goals in the final minute to either tie or take the lead.

Dinwiddie is averaging career-highs in every category. He’s second in the league in assists-to-turnover ratio and has started 39 games this season after starting just one before joining Brooklyn last season.

His 13.1 points put him second on the team for points per game, behind only Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The 6.4 assists lead the team.

Dinwiddie is 13th in the league for assists per game – less than a fraction from being in the top-10. He’s doing all of this while averaging just 28 minutes per game. Only Rajon Rondo dishes out more assists in less time.

Looking beyond the numbers, Dinwiddie has become a leader, among other things, for the young Brooklyn Nets. If you don’t know his name by now, you’d better learn it soon.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

When Billy King traded for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in the 2015 NBA Draft, everybody immediately pointed to his ability to defend. One NBA executive explained that you’d rather have a player who can play D at an NBA level, than teach them how to adjust offensively ... opposed to the other way around.

Things changed for Hollis-Jefferson when he was inserted as a “small ball” 4 in the final 11 games of last season. He posted 11.4 points on 43.1 percent shooting to go along with nearly eight rebounds in 27 minutes per game.

He also hit double figures in eight of the ten games before the season finale and posted his second career 20-point game.

This season, he’s scored 20 or more in eight contests. He has seven double-doubles this season and has taken his biggest leap in the scoring section, where he leads the Nets at 14.3 points on 47 percent shooting in only 28 minutes per game. Last season, he averaged 8.7 points and 43 percent shooting.

Joe Harris

“Who?” We get a lot of that around here if you don’t follow the Nets.

Joe Harris, like Dinwiddie, spent most of his days in the “D” —then the “G”-- with the Canton Charge – Cleveland’s affiliate. He also spent time at the end of the bench on LeBron James’ squad and learned invaluable lessons, he’s explained, but learning in the gym with Atkinson has been his best class thus far.

It not only saved his career. It opened an entire new era.

Harris came to Brooklyn at the beginning of the 2016-17 season and played particularly well in the motion offense as a three-point specialist.

He took his big leap this season, having turned into a multi-dimensional scorer who can be a threat anywhere on the floor. His pump fake has gotten better and he’s gotten strong enough to take it to the hole and finish with contact near the rim. Even his defense has gotten much better.

Many called him Brooklyn’s poor-man’s Kyle Korver, but he looks more like J.J. Redick out there. Harris is also averaging a career-high 10.5 points on 41 percent shooting from deep.

He’s scored in double figures in 11 of the last 13 games. He scored double figures 19 times last season in Brooklyn. Before that? Three times.

On January 26 – 48 games into the season – Harris took sole possession of third place in Nets history in three-pointers made off the bench with 154, passing Lucious Harris who had 153. Lucious Harris played seven seasons with the New Jersey Nets. Joe Harris hasn’t even played two.

Unfortunately for the Nets, he’s an unrestricted free agent after this season. Is it possible they’ll ship him off for something of value, considering they probably will not be able to afford whatever he commands in the offseason? Stay tuned.

Of the three, it should also be noted that Harris is the only one whose January numbers haven’t shown a bit of slippage.

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And that’s the issue with the Nets right now. Of the three players mentioned, maybe one will get a vote, but don’t expect any to win MIP. The three epitomize everything Atkinson and the Brooklyn Nets are about and they’re trying to develop a culture.

Well, these guys – all three – have helped set the precedent for this culture. That’s why it was tough seeing someone like Trevor Booker go in the trade that brought in Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas.

They aren’t league-wide known names, but they’re homegrown players that have shown they’re capable of competing with some of the best teams around the league. And that’s with all the injuries, priority to development, and lack of superstar talent. Sounds very Spurs-esque.