INDIANAPOLIS — How deep are the Nets this season? Ask Sean Kilpatrick. In 93 career games with the Nets, Kilpatrick has averaged 13.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists in just over 24 minutes per game and ranks as one of the top bench scorers in the NBA.
But Kilpatrick suddenly finds himself out of coach Kenny Atkinson’s regular playing rotation even though he averaged 14.5 points, second on the team, in the two preseason games he played before watching the final two as a spectator. Kilpatrick is on the active roster for the season opener Wednesday night at Indiana (Isaiah Whitehead and Tyler Zeller are the inactives), but he’s probably 12th or 13th on the 13-man depth chart.
The change has been jarring to the system of a player who once joked he could fall out of bed and score 10 points, but Kilpatrick is working to keep a good grip on his emotions. “It’s very tough being a competitor, being someone who comes in every day and works hard, who does everything that’s asked of him,” Kilpatrick recently told Newsday. “It’s more so about being a pro at the end of the day.
“You’ve got to always make sure, as my assistant coach Bret [Brielmaier] would tell me, to keep your knives and your utensils sharp. The only thing I can continue to keep doing is being me. Everything else is coach’s decision or, if not, Mr. Marks’ [GM Sean Marks] decision. It’s hard sitting here every day, coping with the same thing and not knowing what’s going to happen. I just continue to come in and do my job.”
Kilpatrick has not complained to Atkinson, and the coach said he has no problem with Kilpatrick’s work ethic or play. Atkinson said his message to the guard simply is: “Stay ready.” You never know when injuries might create a vacancy as they did last season.
“He’s one of our most competitive guys,” Atkinson said. “I don’t see any letdown. I’m sure he’s a little disappointed, but I think he’s a professional and 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.”
The coach said the problem in making playing time for Kilpatrick is the result of a “numbers game,” citing second-year player Caris LeVert and veteran Allen Crabbe, who was acquired in an offseason trade, as the players who are likely to get the most playing time off the bench at shooting guard or small forward. But Atkinson hinted that the numbers that really matter are ones Kilpatrick can do nothing about. LeVert is 6-7, and Crabbe is 6-6. Atkinson loves their size and length on defense. At 6-4, Kilpatrick can’t cover as much territory.
While struggling to handle the reduction in his playing time, Kilpatrick has relied on the support of three close friends on the team, D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll and Jeremy Lin. “I have great vets who know what I’ve done within the league with the time that has been given to me,” Kilpatrick said.
“I have conversations with DeMarre, and he tells me, ‘Keep your head exactly where it needs to be.’ With me being a player that is always thinking team-first, I have to continue to keep building on that. Whatever decision these guys make, that’s what’s best for the team at that moment. I trust everything that Mr. Marks and coach Kenny do. The fact that they want to keep building the way they are, the only thing I can do is continue to be me.”
But if the need arises, Kilpatrick knows where Atkinson can look to find instant offense. “The beauty about having a guy like me on the bench is you can put him in there at any given time, and he’s going to give you something,” Kilpatrick said. “Coach knows that. Injuries or anything can happen, and I’m always available. This is a game full of injuries. That’s the nature of the beast.”