Brooklyn Nets: Week One Coach Analysis
The Brooklyn Nets finished off the first week of the NBA season with a 1-2 record.
On the road to begin the year against the Boston Celtics, the Brooklyn Nets looked overmatched until a 16-2 run in the final four minutes brought them back to within one possession. However, they missed both of their late three-point attempts and lost by five. They followed that up by getting the head coach, Kenny Atkinson, his first career win in their home opener against the Indiana Pacers. Finally, the week was capped off by another nail-biter that saw the Milwaukee Bucks emerge victorious on a tip-in buzzer beater.
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Despite starting each of these first three games as the lesser talented team, the Nets have been able to put up a fight on a nightly basis. Atkinson and the players are clearly in sync and the team has the belief that it can play with any opponent.
Just one week into his first head coaching gig, Atkinson has drawn rave reviews. He’s brought the Nets out of the basement of the NBA and back into moderate respectability. Below I’ll break down some of the more interesting things we’ve seen from Atkinson’s first week.
Before the season began there were many questions about Atkinson. One of the most glaring ones was what type of offense would he run. Atkinson had coached under Mike D’Antoni in New York and Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta. While both coaches are heavy proponents of spacing the floor and shooting on the perimeter, they tend to go different routes to get these results.
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Ever the learner, Atkinson has shown that he’s taken a bit from both of his previous stops in the NBA. The Nets have run sets and plays that are key staples in Budenholzer’s offense with the Hawks and D’Antoni’s “Seven Second or Less” offense that’s followed him from Phoenix to New York to Los Angeles and now to Houston.
ATLANTA SETS: Mike Budenholzer
- ATL triangle updates: For as much flack as it gets from players, coaches and executives around the league, a great number of teams have installed some concepts of the triangle into their offenses. With the Hawks, Mike Budenholzer has been using a few of the most basic principles. The triangle always requires a passer to make some type of move after they throw the ball to a teammate. One such move is for the wing to screen down for the player in the corner when the ball is in the middle of the floor. The Nets have also used a few staples of the triangle in their offense under Atkinson. Whether they’re using a backdoor cut off the high post–more properly referred to as “Blind Pig”–or cutting off the post and screening for the opposite block, these are essential elements of the vaunted triangle offense.
- ATL screen away quick hitter: Another play from Atlanta’s arsenal is a screen away that gives the team the option for a quick three-pointer. The Hawks often use this play to get sharpshooter Kyle Korver good looks early in the shot clock. In Brooklyn, players like Joe Harris and Bojan Bogdanovic have been the beneficiaries. In this set, the team sets up in its base offense (guard on the wing, big filling the middle lane, guard on opposite wing, and the other two players in the corners), but instead of the guard swinging the ball to the big in the middle, that player screens away for the guard on the opposite wing. Defenders are caught off guard, expecting a pass to be made to the middle. Instead, a screen comes and before they can react a shot is already on it’s way to the rim.
- ATL wing PNR: This play also starts out from the base offensive set, except with one minor change. Instead of there being a player in each corner, one player is positioned on the low block. For the Nets, they are usually in this alignment when Brook Lopez is on the court as he’s the team’s biggest low-post threat. This time the ball does get swung to the middle of the floor from the guard. The middle man has the option to swing it again or reverse it back to where it came from. When he reverses it back he immediately goes to set a screen and that turns into a two-man game with that side of the floor clear. Another way they get into this play is by making it look like the quick hitter mentioned above, but instead of shooting, the opposite wing comes off and attacks the lane as the screener rolls to the hoop from the free throw line extended.
- ATL double pin down: A play that initially is designed to get an open look for a shooter has many wrinkles attached to it. To begin, the guard passes to the middle and sets a down screen for the wing. The middle passes to the opposite wing and then sets a second screen for the wing. As the wing comes off the second screen, he receives the ball from the opposite wing if open. If not, the second screener rolls to the rim and with the rest of the players on the perimeter, is likely wide open in the middle of the lane.
- ATL post to kick out 3s: This isn’t a set play, but more of a philosophy of the offense. Both the Hawks and Nets like to get threes off of passes out of the post. The Hawks would routinely throw it into Paul Millsap and Al Horford on the block and then move off the ball in order to get open perimeter shots. The Nets are doing the same thing, mostly with Brook Lopez down low. Lopez is a force inside the paint and teams are likely to send help or double teams at him to keep him from scoring easily. Brooklyn is using this to their advantage by getting great looks from outside when teams send extra defenders down low.
PHOENIX SETS: Mike D’Antoni
PHX spread PNR: Mike D’Antoni helped make the spread pick-and-roll a stable in almost every modern NBA offense. The set up is similar to the base set mentioned above in the Atlanta sets, except the player in the low post starts on the opposite block. The point guard is stationed in the middle of the floor and then receives the screen from the player on the low block coming up to the top of the key. From this action, there are several different options the team can run.
First, the guard could come off the screen and attack the basket if the lane is open. His second choice would be to pass it to the roll man if both his defender and the screener’s defender go with the ball. If the screener isn’t open because a defender rotated onto him, then that leaves the next option open, a kick out to the wing for a three. Finally, the guard can also shoot a jump shot as he would be open if all of the above-stated players are guarded.
Roles: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson & Trevor Booker
Two players who have stuck out during the team’s first three games have been Trevor Booker and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Both players have started every game for Brooklyn this year and have looked great under new coach Kenny Atkinson.
One of the biggest traits of Booker’s game is his athleticism. Standing six-foot-eight with a six-foot-ten wingspan, Booker has the measurements of a small-ball four. While he doesn’t have the shooting ability to stretch the floor like more celebrated undersized power forwards, the Nets have used his athletic abilities to allow him to make plays on the court. Another way they’ve unleashed Booker is by allowing him to play more with the ball in his hands. Booker has always been a beast on the boards. Now, instead of pulling down a rebound and having to find a guard to outlet the ball to, Atkinson has allowed Booker to bring the ball down the court himself in transition. He’s had success during the year and even will attack off the dribble in the half-court too.
Hollis-Jefferson has always been viewed as a very versatile player. At six-foot-seven, he can play both on and off the ball. Atkinson is making good use of Hollis-Jefferson’s comfort with the ball in his hands. On the first offensive possession of the Pacers game, it was RHJ that initiated the offense, allowing Jeremy Lin to work off the ball. Hollis-Jefferson has a great IQ and feel for the game. His ability as a playmaker allows other Nets to work in roles that are more tailored to their strengths. In Atkinson’s spaced motion offense, he has proved capable of finding the open man.
One of the biggest weaknesses of Hollis-Jefferson’s game has been his jump shot. Last year, he shot an abysmal 40.6 percent on shots from 16-plus feet. For the year, he was a 45.7 percent shooter and had an average shot distance of nine feet. This year, he has displayed a more confident midrange jumper. So far the move goes as follows: he begins to dribble towards the hoop and once cut off by the defender, he does a pull-back dribble–usually between-the-legs–and then awkwardly rises up while fading back to sink the basket.
Atkinson has not strayed much from a nine-man rotation. It is interesting to note that Brook Lopez has played under 25 minutes a game so far. Atkinson noted that the team does plan to limit Lopez’s minutes this season and the team even sat him on the second night of a back-to-back. Aside from Hollis-Jefferson, the other young pieces on the roster have not seen much playing time. Caris LeVert is still recovering from his injury and Chris McCullough and Isaiah Whitehead has played a combined 18 minutes.
- Starters: Jeremy Lin (32 MPG), Bojan Bogdanovic (28 MPG), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (24 MPG), Trevor Booker (28 MPG) & Brook Lopez (24 MPG)
- Bench: Justin Hamilton (28 MPG – 1 start), Sean Kilpatrick (24 MPG), Joe Harris (20 MPG), Luis Scola (18 MPG), Greivis Vasquez (13 MPG)
- Outliers: Anthony Bennett one game 18 MPG, Chris McCullough one game 4 MPG, Isaiah Whitehead two games 6 MPG
These numbers will certainly change as the year continues, but the lineup that has shared the floor the most is also the combination that allows the Nets to truly resemble a Budenholzer or D’Antoni style team. Atkinson will likely lean heavily on this fivesome throughout the year. In terms of plus/minus, that number is a little skewed currently based off the Nets late-game comeback against the Celtics. There’s a tie for second with the combinations of (Lin, Kilpatrick, Bogdanovic, Booker, Scola and Lin, Harris, Bogdanovic, Booker, Scola) that are both +7.
- Most Used Lineup: Lin, Bogdanovic, Hollis-Jefferson, Booker, Hamilton (10.1 MPG)
- Most Efficient Lineup: Whitehead, Harris, Bogdanovic, Booker, McCullough (+14)
While Atkinson does get animated at times on the sidelines, there was no one true reaction that stood out above the rest. This week, get the tissues ready as you instead get to hear the (short) interview of Kenny Atkinson’s mom during the Nets’ home opener against the Pacers. It starts at the 2:01 mark and ends at 2:08.