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Kenny Atkinson: Time for players to take the next step

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Kenny Atkinson told Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck Friday that he’s happy to be at the Draft Combine to watch — and interview — Draft prospects ... and spoke as well about where he sees the Nets. The soon-to-be third year head coach echoed a lot of what he and Sean Marks have said about both development and continuity and added that he’s told his top players it’s time for them to make the jump.

“We’re starting to add pieces, we’re starting to have some stability in terms of development,“ Atkinson told Beck. “But listen, at the end of the day, those guys got to make a bigger jump. That’s not enough for them. It’s great and I’m glad they made the jump but, and i told our players, we poked our finger through the ceiling, we need to put two fists through it.”

That jump he said has to be not just as a team, but also individually.

“It’s not being a top-100 player. Now, we need someone to break through and be in the top-30. And I think that can happen.”

Talking about his coaching mentor, Atkinson said it’s on the players.

“I think maybe it’s the Mike D’Antoni in me. I don’t put ceilings on guys -- (it’s like) ‘Spencer, can you get to be top-50?’ or ‘D’Angelo, can you get to be top-30?’ That’s where I think you’ll see make a big jump.”

Atkinson admitted that’s the kind of pIayer you need to become a contender.

“I think you know analytically and the history of the NBA, you need those top guys. You need to develop a top tier ... maybe not a LeBron, a franchise guy but a core player that can really push you to another level.”

Asked what Atkinson is looking for in the upcoming NBA Draft, where the Nets (as of now) will pick at 29, 40 and 45, the Long Island native says, ‘Nets characteristics.’

“I think we have a template for the type of player we’re looking for,” Atkinson continued. “I do think one of the important things, and yes, it’s great seeing the players play at the combine – I think it’s great interviewing these young men – but for me it’s a great time to spend time with Sean (Marks and Trajan (Langdon) and our scouting staff because they’ve been watching these guys all year.

“They have a much better knowledge and an intimate knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses and character traits. I’m really getting a crash course …”

Regarding the Nets making an impact with their actual play this past season, Atkinson said he’d noticed the respect the team gained from others, even acknowledging that he reads post-game quotes from other players and coaches.

“I think there’s a certain amount of pride in that your peers and opposing players respect the competitive nature of your team,” Atkinson said, but added that’s nowhere enough.

“It’s getting to the point where we want more – I think to take the next step there’s got to be another level of caring for your teammate, another level of I.Q. that we have to play with, that I have to coach with.”

Atkinson said that while he likes the praise for the Nets grittiness, there’s a downside.

“I do think at this point it’s getting a little repetitive. ‘Hey, you guys play hard,’ they pat you on the head like, ‘good job, little guys.’ I have to be honest, I do like that, but there’s a little chip on your shoulder, like man, let’s take another step – I do think there has been gradual growth.”

Beck and Atkinson also got into some of the players who make-up the current Net core, like Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen.

Atkinson and Beck also spoke about maintaining sanity while undergoing a gruesome rebuild, the importance of player development in Brooklyn and finding gems in guys like Joe Harris and Dinwiddie.

To listen to the entire Full 48 episode featuring Atkinson, on iTunes visit here.

The podcast is also available on many other platforms, which you can find here.