Brian Lewis got some numbers on how much time the Nets spent Saturday on their two weakest areas last season: defense and rebounding. It was telling...
It was a long first day, with the most attention paid to those two weaknesses. The longest session — a full 20 minutes, a source told The Post — was spent on defensive breakdowns. The next longest? Transition defense, at 15 minutes.
The Nets added defensive talent during the summer, from DeAndre Jordan to Taurean Prince to Lance Thomas. Now, comes the hard part, putting it together, particularly at the 5, where KD and Kyrie’s bud will battle 21-year-old Jarrett Allen.
“Sure, it’s competitive. Those are two competitive guys. The problem is they both played really, really well [Saturday]. It’s two really good players. It will evolve. It always plays itself out,” Kenny Atkinson said of Jordan and Allen. “Those guys both know they’re competing for something.”
And the fourth year coach (with the longest tenure since Lawrence Frank was fired a decade ago) said he believes the two-headed center position “is our biggest strength. We have real depth there and we have real choices there.” On Friday, when asked which players had improved the most since the end of last season, Atkinson named Allen first.
Beyond the 5, the Nets are looking forward to improved perimeter D, with Prince being earmarked as a stopper.
“The challenge for him is to be our defensive stopper,” Atkinson told reporters. “His early years in Atlanta where that was who he was, he was a 3-and-D guy. We’ve got the 3, we’ve got to get him to play that D.”
Prince has said repeatedly he’s up to the challenge and did it again Saturday.
“I’ve had that responsibility since my rookie year. I’ve guarded Marc Gasol, Kyrie Irving, Paul George, LeBron [James] since I got in the league, and it’s been that way every single year,” said Prince, adding, “I didn’t know coach said that, but I was going to demand that and it’s something I look forward to.”
On the other side of the ball, Prince has gotten rave reviews about his offense with Spencer Dinwiddie saying earlier in the week that Prince “can really, really, really shoot it.” He followed it up Friday by telling Ryan Ruocco and Sarah Kustok that Prince’s shooting is on Joe Harris’ level.
Although undersized for a 4 —at 6’8” and 220 pounds— and not a great rebounder in Atlanta, Prince thinks there are ways about the deficit.
“You have use your mind, be smart, not get into foul trouble,” said Prince. “But that comes with knowing the scouting report, knowing what the team wants to do, not being vulnerable, keeping your hands back. And then also it’s a team game,..
“The league now is position-less, unless you’re a five-man,” Prince said. “A lot of teams play four-out, especially in the playoffs. It’s a four-guard game. Just being on the floor is the most beneficial thing for me.”
Prince is likely to get a lot of minutes with Wilson Chandler about to lose a third of the season to a PED suspension and Rodions Kurucs status uncertain after his domestic assault arrest. Not to mention the uncertain status of Kevin Durant.
Improving on defense and rebounding was but one of the areas Atkinson touched on. Another was how much control he will exert on the man with ball, Kyrie Irving. Irving didn’t participate in practice and the Nets announced he will wear a mask when he takes the court. Irving is officially day-to-day since suffering a facial fracture during a scrimmage on Tuesday morning.
“You have to earn your freedom. With freedom, there’s responsibility,” Atkinson said. “We’ll get there. But I do think, let quarterbacks be quarterbacks. You have to give them that freedom. But it’s got to be earned. We’ll get there. I’m pretty excited about that.”
Atkinson said Irving’s absence Saturday was “precautionary.” “Just us saying we don’t want you to get another whack,” the head coach said.
While the rest of the team participated in drills and scrimmaged, Irving and KD did some shooting drills off to the side.
KD getting some shots up at Nets practice today pic.twitter.com/npDljwWPLh— SNY (@SNYtv) September 28, 2019
Meanwhile, Atkinson spoke about changes in the way the Nets are being treated by the media ... and fans, noting there were people waiting outside HSS Training Center the last two days, looking for autographs.
What's different about this year compared to last year?— SNY (@SNYtv) September 28, 2019
"Well someone showed up to my press conference" pic.twitter.com/8ysxkHoQb4
The Nets play their first preseason game in six days vs. Basquete Franca of Brazil at Barclays Center.
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