The coach is the first person people point to when things start going bad. Not so much when things are going good.
For the Brooklyn Nets, things are going really bad. They sit 20 games below .500 and stand one game ahead of last place in the league. They were 15-22 until the 4-16 skid over the last 20.
One thing is for sure: Kenny Atkinson is not the one to blame. While he isn’t perfect, Atkinson certainly doesn’t have the horses to run a fair race in this league. Injuries have only made it tougher for him.
But, he is persistent and he is getting the most out of his guys. He’s always been known for his hard work and ability to get through to players. Coaches around the league are taking notice.
Doc Rivers was the latest to commend Atkinson for the job he’s done considering the circumstances.
“I just love him as a coach. I think he does a great job. His team executes, they play hard, they play together. I don’t think people appreciate how hard that is when your team is not winning to get guys to play together. Most of the guys start looking at contracts, they get selfish and it’s all about numbers. Somehow Kenny has figured it out. They still play together and that’s pretty impressive.”
This came after the Clippers blew the Nets out of the building with a 114-101 victory at Barclays Center. They handed Brooklyn their sixth straight loss — seventh by double-digits in the last 11 games. Brooklyn trailed by as many as 23 before cutting it to nine in the fourth quarter. They never fully recovered, but Rivers respects the way Atkinson has these guys playing.
Then, a week back, Mike D’Antoni gave the Nets a compliment as a whole with a subtle hat tip to Kenny.
“You have to give it to Brooklyn, they wouldn’t let us put it away. They kept coming back. They kept hitting hard shots. We would go up seven and Brooklyn would hit a hard three. They played well; they played with a lot of energy. Like I told them, Brooklyn isn’t going to beat themselves, we’ll have to beat them. I think at the end we did. They’re well coached and they do a good job.”
The importance in this is who it’s coming from. The coach who came up with the philosophies that the Nets are trying to emulate. Take threes, and take as many as you can, please. Take shots early in the shot clock, and again, preferably a three-pointer.
After Brooklyn’s loss to Los Angeles, Atkinson was asked if the Nets want to take 40 three-pointers in a game. Without hesitation he emphatically said: Yes. The Rockets are first in the NBA for most attempts in the NBA. The Nets are second.
“It’s more tilted toward Mike [D’Antoni], especially the pick-and-roll stuff, the spacing, pace,” Atkinson said of D’Antoni back in November. “But I’ve pulled things from others. My time in Atlanta [under Mike Budenholzer] was important. My time here with Rick [Adelman] very important, but I would say Mike [D’Antoni] is the biggest influence.”
Finally, not the last one, but one worth discussing: Gregg Popovich.
“With each week, month and year that goes by, the Nets will be closer to being where every team wants to be, and that’s competing in the playoffs. You can tell the decisions he’s made, you can tell by Kenny [Atkinson] demanding and being fair at the same time – working with these young kids. It’s going in the right direction.”
Any compliment from Pop is worth keeping in your back pocket. Moreover, the Nets - culturally speaking - would like to emulate the San Antonio Spurs in every way possible. Pop has been one of the main reasons San Antonio built their hard-working culture, and the Nets hope Atkinson will do the same.
Times aren’t easy for Atkinson and the Nets right now. They probably won’t be anytime soon. That said, the long-term future looks bright and several well-respected coaches and officials around the league like what Atkinson and the Nets are doing.