Connect with us

NBA

Atkinson Draws From Past to Energize Nets

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson is doing a remarkable job thus far, drawing inspiration from his various NBA stints.

Ben Dowsett

Published

on

When Kenny Atkinson finished up his professional playing career, it was quickly apparent he’d remain in the game on the management side. He served as Director of Player Development for the Houston Rockets during the 2007-08 season, reporting to some young hotshot general manager named Daryl Morey fresh into his first season at the helm. Atkinson moved to the coaching side the following year as an assistant with the New York Knicks. He was once again under a first-year boss – this time Mike D’Antoni, who came aboard in New York the same year. After four seasons in the Big Apple, Atkinson joined the Atlanta Hawks’ coaching staff, and within a couple years he’d become acquainted with Mike Budenholzer.

As Atkinson crosses the 10-game threshold in his first gig as an NBA head coach with the Brooklyn Nets, it’s clear he hasn’t forgotten his past. In fact, he’s using it as a template.

Atkinson’s Nets drew about as little fanfare as a modern NBA team can manage prior to this season. They lacked the on-paper skill to even think about qualifying for the playoffs, and shortsighted moves from a previous regime cut off any potential draft-related excitement at the knees. This was expected to be a mostly boring collection of players who’d generally stand around and watch Brook Lopez post up (until he got hurt or traded), struggle to defend and ultimately leave little lasting impression on anyone before forking over a likely top-five pick to the Boston Celtics.

However, that hasn’t been the case thus far.

Through roughly an eighth of the season, Atkinson has this group playing, well, real basketball. They sit 18th in the league in per-possession net scoring, despite having the seventh-toughest schedule in the league to this point and already missing Lopez and Jeremy Lin for a couple early games. They’ve beaten playoff teams from last year – the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons – and have thrown real scares into potential East contenders such as the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets. And they’ve done it all with some key assists from Atkinson’s past mentors.

Budenholzer’s Hawks embraced their star-less identity from the jump with a cohesive, movement-based system designed to maximize specific skills and create creases in the defense. Atkinson’s Nets are operating under similarly inclusive principles: Six guys are taking at least seven shots a night, and five different Nets in the rotation are using over the league average of 20 percent of team possessions while on the floor. No one on the team is over Bojan Bogdanović’s 28.3 minutes per game.

Systems-wise, Atkinson is drawing from Budenholzer as well – but with a very D’Antoni-esque flair. The Nets use a ton of off-ball movement and screening, much of which is generally unscripted aside from a few basic tenets. Ball-handlers like Lin, Bogdanović and early standout Sean Kilpatrick have a ton of freedom to read the defense, and the unpredictable nature of the offense has helped close skill gaps in more than one game already this year.

This is where a few cherry-picked D’Antoni themes are visible. Atkinson knows his team is trotting out with a talent disadvantage most nights, so he wants his offense picking every bit of low-hanging fruit available to (somewhat) even the playing field. The Nets are playing at the second-fastest offensive pace in the league, per inpredictable.com, pushing any little edge in transition and looking for early chances to catch the defense off guard. They’re attempting the fourth-highest percentage in the NBA of shots “early” in the shot clock, per NBA.com SportVU figures (15-18 seconds), and the 10th-highest percentage of “very early” shots (18-22 seconds).

Lopez – suddenly a three-point gunner who matched his entire career attempt total from deep by his seventh game of the year – is setting drag screens as soon as the ball crosses halfcourt, and has full license from Atkinson to fire away early in the clock if guys leave him:

Lean too far expecting the drag screen, Cody Zeller? No matter, Lopez just won’t bother to set it.

He’s only hitting about a third of them, but Lopez’s range is opening things up for the entire offense. The Nets generated 15 open or wide open threes per game last season (no defender within four feet); they’ve more than doubled that so far this year, and lead the entire league in these attempts by a decent margin.

Individually, Lopez has never looked more comfortable on the floor. The freedom Atkinson has given him with his three-point shot is clearly rubbing off elsewhere. Lopez is decimals from the highest percentage at the rim he’s shot in his career, and his entire shooting profile from within 10 feet has actually improved markedly thus far even as he steps outside way more often.

A conservative defensive scheme against most pick-and-rolls has Lopez perfectly cast as a last line of defense at the rim. He’s posting easily his best season here since SportVU began tracking contested rim attempts (excepting a 17-game small-sample outlier in 2013-14): The 39.1 percent opponents are shooting at the rim while Lopez is nearby ranks fourth-stingiest among 53 guys defending at least five per game, mere points behind Hassan Whiteside and actually decimals ahead of Rudy Gobert.

Plenty of guys give you more when they’re having fun on the court, and the effect has been visibly apparent with Lopez. Watch him closely throughout this entire set that leads to another open three: This isn’t free-flowing offense that happens to get an acceptable shooter a look late in the shot clock – this is designed for Lopez. How could any seven-footer not enjoy plays like this drawn up for him?

From a philosophical standpoint, though, Atkinson’s overhaul in Brooklyn is straight out of the Morey Handbook For Team-Building. The Nets are pushing the analytical envelope with their offensive approach: Trying fewer mid-range shots than anyone but Morey’s Rockets (they’re hitting theirs at a much higher rate than Houston), and trailing only the vaunted Cavaliers in corner three-point attempts and only the Rockets again in above-the-break attempts.

No team has attempted more spot-up field goals, per Synergy Sports data, generally a sign of a healthy offense generating productive shots. The Nets finished a play from the post on 10 percent of their possessions last year, one of the five highest rates in the league; they’re down under seven percent for this year, now in the league’s bottom half. This is a clear philosophy from Atkinson, and it’s helping the Nets stick with teams they don’t match up well against on paper.

There’s no doubt that the Nets will still lose plenty of games this year. The talent gap is real on most nights, and it could grow in a hurry if Lopez is dealt before the deadline to help restock the barren draft cupboard left by the last administration. At some point, good defenses are going to figure out how to better snuff out depth options like Yogi Ferrell, Justin Hamilton and Joe Harris.

What Atkinson has done so far borders on remarkable, though. Even with his only two true starter-level players in Lopez and Lin in and out of the lineup, Atkinson has kept the group competitive on a nightly basis. He’s helped resurrect Kilpatrick’s career, a process that began under the previous regime last season but has been allowed to fully blossom with more freedom and trust.

Atkinson will find more confidence in the details as time wears on. This is just a promising start to a very long game. His foundation is built on principles from some of the most respected minds in the game, and it’s taken hold quicker than anyone could have expected. Prepare yourselves for a world where the Nets might be fun again.

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NBA

NBA Daily: Are Stephen Curry, Draymond Green Enough To Keep Warriors Afloat?

Steph Curry and Draymond Green are one of the NBA’s most accomplished duos ever. Still, they might not be good enough to take the rebuilt Warriors back to the playoffs, says Jack Winter.

Jack Winter

Published

on

Advanced statistics, maybe even more than the gleam of multiple championship rings and Larry O’Brien trophies, suggest that Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are among the NBA’s most dominant pair of teammates ever.

The Warriors won three championships from 2014-15 to 2018-19. They played in the NBA Finals every June, and combined to win 322 regular season games – by far the most in league history over any five-year span. Even that all-time level of success still doesn’t quite portray just how close Golden State was to winning a mind-bending five straight titles. Luck always affects the championship picture, but the Warriors – with Green’s one-game suspension midway through the 2016 Finals and separate injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson last spring – were almost the last team standing for a half-decade running regardless.

Curry and Green, certainly before Durant arrived and even for the past three seasons, were the driving forces behind Golden State’s dynasty. Everything the Warriors did on both ends stemmed from the singular influence provided by the most imminently-threatening shooter of all time and a defensive chameleon the likes of which the league had never seen. Steve Kerr deserves immense credit for the implementation and execution of his team’s ballyhooed two-way concepts, but he’s the first to acknowledge that its unique style of play was built on the backs of Curry and Green.

The same will hold true in 2019-20. The Warriors, in fact, are poised to ask more of Curry and Green this season than ever, a development the numbers indicate should lead to sustained success despite a re-made, underwhelming roster that won’t include Thompson until March at the absolute earliest, if he comes back at all.

Curry and Green posted a +15.2 net rating last season, the league’s third-best mark behind duos that included each of them and Durant. They had the 12th-best net rating in 2017-18, when Curry missed 31 games with an ankle injury, and ranked top-eight in that regard during each of the previous three seasons. No other tandem in basketball boasts a higher average net rating since 2014-15 than Curry and Green’s +16.5.

Obviously, Curry and Green don’t account for that unparalleled level of on-court success all by themselves. Duos including Durant, Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and even Zaza Pachulia and Andrew Bogut, plus one of Curry or Green, also count among the league’s best in recent seasons. The Warriors’ dominance, unsurprisingly, rippled throughout the roster.

The problem is that it won’t in 2019-20. Golden State doesn’t have superlative high-end talent anymore, at least until Thompson is back to full-strength, and more importantly, sorely lacks the “Strength In Numbers” that defined its first title team and propelled them to 73 wins.

Curry, Green and D’Angelo Russell are the only consensus starter-level players on the roster. We’re high on Kevon Looney, especially now that he’s planning to shoot threes on a consistent basis, but there’s understandable debate about his value. The Warriors are hopeful Willie Cauley-Stein, abandoned by the Sacramento Kings, will thrive in a more defined role. Glenn Robinson III is the Warriors’ fifth starter, but it’s unclear, entering his sixth season with his fifth different team, what abject positive he brings to the floor. It’s remiss for a team to count on the availability of Alec Burks. Golden State took a training-camp flier on Marquese Chriss, and now he’s a meaningful member of the rotation. Jordan Poole has impressed with his scoring instincts and Eric Paschall has solid defensive tools, but expecting any rookie to meaningfully contribute, especially those drafted outside the lottery, is likely to end in disappointment.

No other team with legitimate playoff aspirations has a less proven, to put it politely, supporting cast than the Warriors. Complicating matters is that Kerr no longer has the personnel needed to employ his longtime systems on both sides of the ball. Golden State has little roster continuity and, without continuity of its scheme, too, has little more to fall back on other than the presence of Curry and Green.

Offensively, that equation will almost undoubtedly still add up to a top-10 unit. Curry makes the game that much easier for his teammates and, unleashed again as his team’s clear alpha dog, could put up big enough numbers to become just the ninth player ever to win a third MVP. Another dynamic ball-screen operator like Russell will make the game easier on Curry, too, and at least somewhat narrow the inevitable gulf between the Warriors’ effectiveness when the latter is on the court compared to when he’s on the bench.

It’s the other end of the floor that could doom Golden State. Green was playing more than 20 pounds overweight for most of last season, but it’s still instructive to remember that the Warriors finished 11th in defensive rating, tied for their worst showing in the Kerr era. Without switch-proof defenders like Durant, Thompson, Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Jordan Bell, just what type of defense will Kerr and highly-respected coordinator Ron Adams implement?

That question may not be as pertinent to the Warriors’ ability to get stops as to how Green functions in his team’s new system. There’s no help defender in basketball smarter or more impactful than Green; he routinely makes offenses react to him rather than the other way around. But much of his value is derived from Green’s ability to guard all five players on the floor in isolation situations. With Golden State likely to play a more traditional brand of defense, far lighter on switching until late in the shot clock, just how large can Green’s influence loom?

Another factor that lowers the Warriors’ floor: age. Curry is already 31, and Green turns 30 in March. Both have played into June each of the last five seasons, and Golden State has long prioritized the big picture relating to rest. Curry and Green should be due for a decrease in playing time at this stage of their careers. Instead, even if they don’t see additional minutes, every possession during the regular season will prove a bit more onerous than those in recent years, as Curry and Green are tasked with almost single-handedly propping up the Warriors on offense and defense, respectively.

Of course, Golden State, whose flexibility is limited by the hard cap, has re-adjusted expectations for 2019-20. It’s no longer championship or bust in the Bay, and won’t be even if Thompson is able to return in time for a postseason run.

But just because the stakes have changed doesn’t mean missing the playoffs in perhaps the most competitive Western Conference ever will be an acceptable outcome. The deeper you dig into the Warriors’ potential strengths and weaknesses, the clearer it becomes that Curry and Green, despite so many years of historic success, may not be enough to take them there.

Continue Reading

NBA

High-Performance Mindfulness: Solving Ben Simmons’ Shot

Jake Rauchbach provides alternative Integrated Player Development solutions in the case that Ben Simmons continues to experience chronic shooting issues.

Jake Rauchbach

Published

on

Ben Simmons made his first career three-point shot during an Oct. 8 preseason game in Philadelphia versus the Guangzhou Long-Lions of the Chinese Basketball League. Sixers fans are now waiting in anticipation to see if Simmons emerges as a consistent shotmaker.

The made three-pointer, combined with offseason footage showing his ability to consistently knock down perimeter shots, could be signs that shooting efficiency improvement is imminent for Simmons.

Predicting whether or not Simmons improves his shotmaking ability this season is not our aim. However, providing leading-edge player development solutions if Simmons’ improvement is not a smooth line upwards, is.

In this piece, we will also examine common underlying causes for players who have experienced chronic shooting issues. Before we can understand these issues, we must first take a look at the components that make up a player’s shot.

The Layers to Shooting Efficiency

When improving shooting consistency over a period of time, there are several levels to the player’s jump shot that should be considered.

The Physical: Form and structure is the outward compilation of a player’s inner dynamics. On-court shot repetition is requisite for engraining new subconscious behavior, such as muscle memory of an effective shot. When a player’s form changes from shot-to-shot, or if there is an inconsistent percentage, more often than not, there are deeper issues at play.

The Mental: Mental interferences can affect form and consistency. For example, the thoughts and memories from chronically bad shooting performances can linger within a player’s psyche if not specifically addressed.

Negatively charged thoughts from a 0-for-11 game in high school can still be adversely affecting the veteran professional player. These blocks can affect focus, confidence, form and consistency.

Generally, these barriers to success are stored on the subconscious level of the mind.

The Emotional: Emotional blocks, such as embarrassment and frustration from bad misses, can lead to inconsistency and vacillation in shooting form. Players often carry around past emotional experiences. If left unchecked, they can throw off something as refined as a shooting motion. For Simmons, a big part of why he has been so hesitant is that he still may hold subconscious barriers such as these within the deep psyche.

The Energetic: The Energetic or Quantum level is the deepest aspect of the player. Often, the underlying cause of any shooting efficiency can be tracked back to here. A lack of flow in the physical body, mind or emotional body, can be detrimental to a player’s shooting motion and efficiency. Background information on this can be found here.

The Underlying Cause of Chronic Shooting Issues

Very rarely does the underlying cause lie in the player’s shooting mechanics.

Ineffectual mechanics and shooting inefficiency almost always map back to the DEEP psyche. The subconscious mind, also known as muscle memory, can hold performance inhibiting mental, emotional and energetic blocks from past on and off-court experience.

This is especially true for players like Simmons, who go through a season or more of chronic shooting issues. Mental and emotional elements, like fear, self-doubt and hesitancy can do a number on a player’s psyche.

Even in situations where they may not mean to, players are always building habits on the physical, mental, emotional and energetic levels. Habits that are built through shooting struggles can remain with the player for years.

If you have been following this column, we have talked extensively about Nick Anderson’s struggles. This example can provide context. In regards to Simmons, the same subconscious dynamic could be at play.

The Rub

Attacking chronic shooting issues solely from the physical repetition side can produce mixed results. A one-sided approach like this can overlook the psychosomatic issues that are underlying the player’s shaky shooting performance.

Taking a look at Simmons’ summertime footage, and preseason three-point make, it looks as if his shooting mechanics are fluid and in rhythm.

(Courtesy: Synergy Sports)

Comparing this to his three-point attempts taken within the flow of the 76ers offense during the 2018-2019 season, it appears as if Simmons is taking steps forward.

(Courtesy: Synergy Sports)

However, it is important to not confuse initial progress with permanent improvement. For Simmons, there could be psychosomatic hurdles at play, which if left unresolved could hinder his sustained improvement in the shooting department.

The Integrated Player Development Approach

There is the chance that the 76ers point man could be off to the races with his shooting percentage improvement.

In the case that he is not, tweaking his current player development process to address the inevitable volatility from the mental and emotional side could work to stabilize his shooting efficiency.

Integrated Player Development combining on-court skill work with Energy Psychology implemented early, often and continuously throughout the season provides the highest probability to do this.

Off-court High-Performance Mindfulness sessions, in-game refocusing techniques and on-court skill development could be most effective in doing this.

To learn more about High-Performance Mindfulness and Integrated Player Development methods, click here.

Continue Reading

NBA

NBA Daily: Who Will Be King Of LA?

With the NBA season upon us, Jordan Hicks takes a look at the two favorites to win it all – who both happen to hail from the City of Angels – and points out why a certain team could end up on top.

Jordan Hicks

Published

on

As we all know, since the Lakers lost last night, they are overrated, don’t have nearly enough shooting and are overall an ugly fit on the court. If the Lakers would’ve won, they’d be the front-runners for a ring, gel perfectly and could score from anywhere on the court. The best part of the NBA is that it’s a marathon – not a sprint. Sure, all 82 games matter, but it’s not very likely that a single regular-season game holds much of anything come playoff time.

What we are going to explore in this article will be a look into who really has what it takes to be the top-dog out of Los Angeles this season. Both teams are considered to be top-three finishers in most people’s rankings, but who has a better chance of getting a higher-seed, making it further in the playoffs and – in the end – hoisting the Larry O’Brien?

Let’s first take a look at some of the predictions featuring these teams that stem from Basketball Insider’s yearly NBA Predictions article (found here) and break them down, starting with the Lakers.

The Los Angeles Lakers will not be a top-four seed in the Western Conference

At first glance, this take seems off. The Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis – how could they finish anything other than the top two? But when you dig into the facts, it seems plausible.

LeBron’s last season in Cleveland ended as the fourth seed. The year prior – although they were the best team out East – they still nabbed just the second seed.

Anthony Davis has never finished higher than a sixth seed and only ever helped New Orleans to the playoffs twice since being drafted in 2012.

Combining Davis and James certainly improve the chances of the Lakers getting a higher seed in the playoffs, no one will argue that, but things are different this time around, too. LeBron is a year older. He and Davis have yet to play any official basketball together. And, most importantly, they are in the Western Conference. Yes, the same conference where non-playoff teams would be a top-four seed in the East.

LeBron’s wake-up call in the West was missing the playoffs for the first time since his second season. Yes, he missed a chunk of the season due to injury, but they still lost enough key games with him on the floor to not use it as an outright excuse.

Is this is a hot take? It should be considered lukewarm at best. The Lakers have enough talent to finish as a top-four seed, but there’s a real chance they won’t. They’ll be directly competing with the Clippers, Rockets, Jazz, Nuggets, and Trail Blazers for home court in round one, and I don’t think anyone apart from LeBron superfans will be surprised if they fall to a fifth-or-worse seed come playoff time.

Despite the eventual whispers about Frank Vogel’s job security, he will end the season as head coach of the Lakers

This one is interesting. Vogel was not the sexy name coach that many had envisioned when he was selected to head the Lakers. He had success early on in his career, leading Indiana to back-to-back conference finals appearances, but was most recently coaching Orlando to just 25 wins in the 2017-18 season. To say he was the Lakers’ first choice is laughable, but he wasn’t a horrible hire considering who was available.

Yes, there may be whispers of him being fired if they get off to a slow start, but the Lakers have too much talent to assume Vogel won’t make it until at least the offseason before they consider letting him go. Then, maybe the dream of every NBA Twitter user will come true and the Lakers will hire Magic Johnson as the head coach for the 2020-21 season. No? Yeah, that definitely won’t happen.

Now, moving on to the Clippers.

Los Angeles Clippers – NBA Champions

Clippers over the Philadelphia 76ers seems to be the consensus when it comes to the ending of the season. And how can you see it another way? On one hand, we can’t keep expecting LeBron to turn in these super-human performances. One of the few players who kept up exceptional play deep into his career was Karl Malone, but even he started playing professionally after multiple years of college ball. LeBron came straight from high school. The man has literal MILES on his body.

On the other hand, the Clippers are downright good. The team is largely the same from last season where they won two games on the road against a healthy Warriors team that included Kevin Durant. Add to that roster one Paul George and one Kawhi Leonard – those are *pretty* solid additions. The Lakers may have added AD, but they had to gut the core of their roster to do so. The Clippers didn’t lose all that much if we are being honest. Danilo Gallinari is nice, but not essential, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will be really solid one day, but he wasn’t necessarily moving the needle. Even better, the Clippers held on to the most valuable rookie on their roster last season in Landry Shamet. He shot 45 percent from three last season after being dealt to the Clippers!

The Lakers will be good, no doubt. But the Clippers just might be better. And that will be enough to get them to and past The Finals as champions.

Andre Iguodala will be traded – but not to the Lakers or Clippers

This seems very realistic. Iguodala will likely be on the move. He won’t want to play for the Grizzles and in turn, Memphis will gladly accept any asset that Iguodala returns, but it’s just doubtful that either Los Angeles team will have the best offer.

Virtually every other team in the West will have someone or something that exceeds what the Lakers or Clippers can offer, so neither franchise will be able to net the veteran forward for some significant playoff help.

Whose roster is better?

The Clippers have the superior head coach in Doc Rivers, superior duo (very slightly) in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and the superior role players in Montrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet, Lou Williams, and Patrick Beverley, to name a few. It wouldn’t be out of pocket to say that both LeBron James and Anthony Davis are individually better than both Leonard and George.

What this means is that the George-Leonard duo meshes better. In that, you have two elite defenders, as well as two incredibly talented shooters and playmakers. They are both long and athletic, and both have the ability to change the flow of the game at almost every level. LeBron and AD may be objectively better players, but no matter how well they play together, it likely won’t be on the same field as PG and the newly-dubbed “Terminator.”

The last few paragraphs make it seem like the Clippers are hands-down better than the Lakers, but that just isn’t the case. If LeBron can get back to the same form he had during the 2017-18 playoff run, the Lakers will be scary good. Davis is still young and should be plenty healthy with his lack of play last season. The same goes for LeBron. If those two can find a groove, there isn’t a single team in the NBA with a duo that is defensively skilled enough to stop them. The Lakers’ defense will certainly be called into questions at times, but both JaVale McGee and AD are ample enough rim protectors to keep it from becoming too much of an issue.

Another factor that may push the Lakers past the Clippers is the injury issues that could end up haunting the red and blue brand. George will miss the first 10-plus games recovering from dual shoulder surgery. Kawhi, on the other hand, has quite a history of random injuries and more-than-normal load management DNPs. If they lose key games due to inactive players, it could really mess up their seeding and cause them to lose a seven-game series largely due to missing out on homecourt.

With all this being said, it seems plausible that Clippers come out as the kings of LA. The Lakers just don’t have the overall talent to match the Clippers.

But if anything, the game you witnessed last night will have loads of information to analyze and digest moving forward. Just, please, take the results with a grain of salt. As previously mentioned, the NBA season is long. But one thing is certain: we as viewers are in for an incredible ride this year!

Continue Reading
Advertisement

NBA Team Salaries

Advertisement

CloseUp360

Insiders On Twitter

NBA On Twitter

Trending Now