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Kenny Atkinson: ‘No clue’ yet how good his team can be

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Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Pronouncements and predictions aside. Hype aside. Kenny Atkinson doesn’t —yet— know how good his team can be ... two days before the season opener.

“Yeah, you want to know who are you? How good are you going to be?” Atkinson asked rhetorically. “We can say whatever we want and we added new players, but I really don’t know right now. I’m not going to go say we’re a playoff team; I’m not saying that right now. We’re going to be in the conference finals or we’re not going to make the playoffs.

“It’s going to reveal itself. We’ll talk after 10, 15 games, I can [know] more. And that’s an exciting part for all of us, right? Who is this team? What’s going to be their identity? How good are they going to be? Are they a playoff team? An elite playoff team? Are they not a playoff team? We can all have our opinion on that; we just don’t know.”

It’s fair to say that the Nets blowout loss to the Raptors Friday made Atkinson (who’s normally a bit skeptical if not downright pessimistic) a bit unsure. Fatigue and experimental lighting can only be blamed so much.

As Brian Lewis writes...

An analytics-driven team that tries to take away the 3 and force midrange shots gave up 47 attempts from deep. Wednesday they’ll open against a Minnesota squad that shockingly led the NBA in pace this preseason and was fourth in 3-point attempts.

Things were better in China vs. the Lakers despite the, uh, distractions.

“On-ball defense, being able to guard your guy, it seemed like a lot of times we were getting broken down off the dribble. Guys were over-rotating and the byproduct was open 3s,” Joe Harris said.

“Sometimes the stuff we’ve been working on, you can let it slip a bit. The trip to China, whatever it might be. It was a mental and effort thing honestly. We have a lot of really good defenders … but anyone’s going to be a bad defender when you’re a lackadaisical step behind.”

As for the data that teams who went to China start slow, Atkinson seemed to express skepticism and wanted his analytics guys to have a look.

“That’s a good point. Maybe I’ll ask our analytics group because you need a sample size, then our performance group,” Atkinson said. “That leaves a bit of a question mark, are we going to take a little bit more time in evaluating. But I don’t think the guys want to use that as an excuse. They haven’t talked about it. We just have to play through it.”

One player Atkinson is excited about seeing is Caris LeVert who he thinks is headed towards stardom this year...

“I think he’s trending toward that, I do,” Atkinson said. “Small sample size, but I think he has the ability. I think he has the talent. There are some things he’s got to work on to get there. Am I going to be a two-way player? Am I going to defend, too? Is his catch-and-shoot going to go from 30% to 36%, 37%? I know he’s working on it. But those are kind of the two areas to get to that level, and he knows that . . . But he definitely has the talent and the ability to get to that level.”

LeVert says he’s ready for the challenge and says he learned some things during his rehab from a nasty ankle location, including“staying focused [and] not letting the situation kind of get you down.”

“The thing with Caris was even up until his injury last year, we all thought he was playing at sort of an All-Star level,” teammate Joe Harris said. “He had the injury, difficult time coming back, like one would from a significant injury of that manner. But as soon as he got healthy — it was right around playoff time — he was back to his normal self. He had a great summer.”