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Kenny Atkinson lets point guards be point guards

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

In Stefan Bondy’s story on Kenny Atkinson being a point guard “whisperer,” more than one NBA point guard points their finger on what makes the Nets coach so good at his job.

“Whatever you do best, Kenny pushes that. Like do you. Do you,” D’Angelo Russell, told Bondy. “And with that being said, he gives you the confidence to want to do it, as well.

“Me, I feel like I’m not a dunk-on-you type point guard or go in there and throw my body around and do all this contact. I’m not that. So he allows me to not have to be that.

“I think that’s pretty much where the success is coming from.”

The TWolves’ Jeff Teague who worked with Atkinson in Atlanta agrees with DLo. He says he suspects the Nets point corps are happy with him,

“Before he got to Atlanta, when I was there, it was, get the ball to Joe (Johnson). Post-up. Get the ball to Al (Horford) and Josh (Smith),” Teague said. “And when he got there he just showed me a whole new light on basketball, really. He let me be myself.

“He opened up to me and he showed me a whole new way of looking at basketball.”

Why does Atkinson have such success. He played the game at the 1 and he worked with the point guards’ friend, Mike Dantoni, then with Knicks, now with the Rockets who play his Nets this evening in Houston.

“I knew all of Mike’s stuff. And obviously I watch a ton of the great point guards – Steve Nash, Chris Paul, I studied those guys. That was my first attraction in player development. The springboard was the point-guard position,” Atkinson said.

“I just had a special affinity for those guys,” he added. “I obviously played the position and had an interest in the position. I tend to bond with those guys better. And talk to them more. I think it’s almost like the quarterback and the head coach of an NFL team. It’s very similar especially with the proliferation of the pick-and-roll game.”

And his work ethic is legendary. Teague says Atkinson would sometimes practice with his team’s point guard in his bare feet. “He’s a nut. He’s a full nut,” Teague said. “He used to be out there barefoot in the gym at six in the morning.”

Spencer Dinwiddie agrees.

“He’s the first one in the gym. There are times after a back-to-back where we have a off-day and I come in at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., and he’s here already,” Dinwiddie said. “And he’s talking to me about a play that happened yesterday and I’m like, ‘Bruh, I thought you would be sleep. What are you doing?’ He’s always going. You appreciate that level of work ethic.”

Teague adds that he believes the Nets point guards understand how valuable he is. He did the hard way.

“I know (Russell, Dinwiddie and Shabazz Napier) don’t want to leave Brooklyn,” said Teague. “Because when (Atkinson) left Atlanta, I was sick. It wasn’t the same.”