Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said it’s time his team moves past praise for playing hard and moral victories, and starts to pile up some real ones.
“There’s a little bit of solace. But this year I think it’s a little different,” Atkinson said. “I think it wasn’t sympathetic from those guys, it was great that I got that feedback because that was part of staying positive through the season because you did hear that. But this year we’ve got to take a step.”
Amid an NBA-worst 20-62 in his debut season, Atkinson often heard opposing coaches praise how hard his Nets played. While it’s better than the alternative, after the Nets exhausted copious amounts of cap space and brought in six new faces — including D’Angelo Russell — the bar has been raised.
“Playing hard isn’t enough. We’ve got to play a little smarter,” Atkinson said. “There’s a step to make. I’m not sure what exactly that looks like. Utopian [conditions] I do, but I think we have to make steps where we don’t have to talk about, ‘Hey, they play hard.’ They’re really executing, and really playing smart basketball. I think that’s the next step.”
Most Vegas projections have the Nets winning 27.5 or 28.5 games, while the latest ESPN prediction released Monday has them 31-51.
After only putting in a small portion of the system and playing particularly vanilla on offense last season, Atkinson said he has installed more this year despite the preseason slate being reduced from six games to four. He felt the offense will be much crisper when Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert get up to speed, but admitted it has a ways to go.
Brooklyn had 78 turnovers in the preseason, with point guard Jeremy Lin committing an unsightly 13.
“Yeah, it’s just been sheer decision-making,” Atkinson said. “Most of it has been in the pick-and-roll. And keeping things simpler.
“The 50-50 passes, that’s our theme this year. We want it more 80-20, 90-10, make sure that thing’s there. So he’s just been a little loose with the ball, taking some risks.”
Despite averaging 14.5 points in the first two preseason games when both LeVert and Crabbe were hurt, shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick did not play (coach’s decision) in the last two.
“I talk to him. My message is stay ready,” Atkinson said. “He’s one of our most competitive guys. I don’t see any letdown. I’m sure he’s a little disappointed but he’s a professional. He’s the type of guy we want around here. He’s not going to lie down and say, ‘OK that’s how it is.’ He’s going to keep competing.”
Atkinson was a sideline guest for Sunday’s Jets game against the Patriots at MetLife Stadium, and couldn’t help but draw a parallel between overachieving Gang Green and his Nets.
“I thought about it. … It’s hard for me not to think about the correlations,” Atkinson said. “I had a fantastic time, a great time. It was really, really neat. It was a great atmosphere. I respect the Jets because they’re competing so darn hard. I’m not a football expert, but it seems the Patriots are a juggernaut.”