On Day 1 of his first NBA head-coaching job, Kenny Atkinson laid the foundation for the defensive principles and focus that he believes not only will help the Nets exceed low expectations this season but also will serve as the bedrock for the future.
With the exception of Jeremy Lin, Brook Lopez and Luis Scola, the Nets’ revamped roster lacks the firepower of the majority of NBA teams, but desire and a sound defensive system can be a great equalizer. So Atkinson said 60 to 70 percent of his first training camp practice was spent on defense to set the right tone.
“Yeah, I think we need to be clear on what we’re doing right from the first day,” Atkinson said Tuesday. “That’s the first thing we addressed. We understand you need balance to be a good team. It’s not like we’re forgetting about the offense, but (emphasizing defense) was our mindset a little bit.
“Transition defense is huge today in the NBA. Teams want to score early in the shot clock, so get your transition defense set. After that, it’s your pick-and-roll defense.”
When Atkinson and general manager Sean Marks overturned the roster, they emphasized size in the backcourt. But another vital ingredient will be player development, and the 7-foot Lopez spent his summer getting into shape to meet Atkinson’s demands for defending the pick-and-roll.
“I know he’s coachable, and I’m convinced he’s capable,” Atkinson said of Lopez. “So it’s up to the coaches to get the scheme that’s going to fit him. As you can see, he’s made a commitment to improving his body and his agility. That’s going to help him on the defensive end.’’
Atkinson noted that when Lin was with Charlotte last season, his size was an asset when called upon to defend former Heat two-guard Dwyane Wade at times in the playoffs. The Nets also added size when they signed 6-5 Greivis Vasquez and extended 6-4 Sean Kilpatrick, who moved up from the D-League to catch on with the Nets near the end of last season.
“Sean likes to think of himself as a scorer, and I know he scored in the D-League,” Atkinson said. “But our player emphasis is to help him get better defensively. I think he can be better than he already is. He has size, and he’s got toughness.”
In the frontcourt, the Nets signed Utah free agent Trevor Booker to help with team defense at power forward. “I think we have some guys who are going to come in with something to prove,” Booker said. “Maybe they didn’t get the opportunity on another team and they see a great opportunity here to brighten their name. Everybody is going to compete and leave it all on the floor.”
That will start for the Nets at the defensive end.