HOUSTON — Two of the leading proponents of pace and three-point shooting were on opposite benches Monday night at Toyota Center, and it’s no surprise they belong to a mutual admiration society since Nets coach Kenny Atkinson served an NBA apprenticeship under Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni when both worked for the Knicks.
When asked to describe their relationship, D’Antoni cracked, “I hate the guy. I couldn’t wait to get away from him . . . He was really good for us in New York, great relationship, great guy, great family. I’m really happy for what he’s doing. He’s a good coach, and he’s a good guy, too.”
The Nets entered the game with three starters — DeMarre Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Allen Crabbe on the shelf because of illness or injuries, but Atkinson joked that he would text his starting lineup to D’Antoni before the game and expect him to reciprocate. “He’s just a wonderful human being, wonderful family,” Atkinson said of D’Antoni. “He’s meant a lot to my career, and he’s doing a great job here. I’m so happy for him.”
Asked how much of his offensive philosophy he owes to D’Antoni as opposed to other mentors, Atkinson said, “It’s more tilted toward Mike, especially the pick-and-roll stuff, the spacing, pace. But I’ve pulled things from others. My time in Atlanta [under Mike Budenholzer] was important. My time here with Rick [Adelman] very important, but I would say Mike is the biggest influence.”
In their final meeting last season, the Rockets and Nets combined to take 88 three-point shots. The Rockets came into the game averaging 44.3 three-point attempts per game, which accounted for 53.0 percent of all their shot attempts.
Both agree the three-pointer only will become more prominent, especially with more centers shooting beyond the arc. “Now, you’re really spreading the floor,” D’Antoni said. “Players keep getting better. Now, we take threes four feet behind the line. Will they take them at halfcourt? I don’t know.”