Nets must improve on boards and defense
Head coach Atkinson addresses Brooklyn’s needs entering camp
Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson accepted plenty of plaudits last season for making an eight-game improvement over his brutal debut campaign.
After going an NBA-worst 20-62 in 2016-17, Brooklyn bumped its record up to 28-54 last season, and received compliments from their opponents almost nightly for their collective efforts.
While being lauded for playing hard and competing until the final buzzer is nice, it doesn’t exactly take away the sting of losing over 65 percent of your games during an 82-game regular season.
One week away from opening the annual training camp at the HSS Training Center in Sunset Park, Atkinson, alongside general manager Sean Marks, met with the local media Tuesday afternoon at the team’s practice facility to discuss what must improve for these Nets to make the jump back into serious contention.
Both parties agreed that rebounding and defense would be stressed throughout next week’s camp, and that the improvement of those two areas was likely the key to Brooklyn getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Marks inked power forward Ed Davis away from Portland this summer, bringing in a 6-foot-10, 245-pound veteran who pulled down a whopping 14.1 rebounds per 36 minutes off the bench for the Trail Blazers.
He also traded for self-proclaimed “Man-imal” Kenneth Faried of Denver, a ferocious player along the interior who has averaged 11.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game over his first seven years in the NBA with the Nuggets.
The brawny tandem, who will be paired up front with fast-emerging second-year center Jarrett Allen, should help the Nets improve upon a defense that was one of only four in the league to allow an average of over 110 points per contest last season.
“Obviously Ed fills a rebounding need for us,” said Atkinson. “He’s a proven rebounder in this league. A proven screener. Definitely adds great physicality.
“Kenneth also, good rebounder, great energy guy,” he added. “I think rebounding’s going to be a big theme for us defensively. So those guys are going to add a little beef and physicality and toughness. Really welcome additions to the team.”
With returning offensive talent like D’Angelo Williams, Allen Crabbe and NBA Most Improved Player runner-up Spencer Dinwiddie, the Nets will likely pack enough scoring punch to once again stay with their opponents.
But a porous defense that not only provides easy baskets but second-chance opportunities on missed shots will likely prevent Brooklyn from seriously competing for one of the eight coveted playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
“I think defense is an area where we’ve kind of stayed at the same level rankings-wise with our defense over the first two seasons,” said Atkinson.
“I’d like to take a jump and improve that area. I think we were 30th in the league in creating turnovers. I think that’s an area where upping our activity, that’s a big area for us this year of improvement.”
That’s why Atkinson and Marks intend to toughen this squad up a bit, both with the additions they’ve made this summer and the individual growth of players that have been a part of this rebuilding project on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
“I think it starts with individual improvement,” said Atkinson. “You look at a guy like Jarrett Allen. Excellent year protecting the rim, excellent year playing pick and roll defense. But his rebounding numbers have to come up for him to take a jump.
“I think that’s the case with each of our guys. They have to make individual jumps, and then collectively as a staff, we can improve on better schemes, more adjustments. We have to provide the schemes that allow these guys to be put in positions to be successful.”
The Nets will host the Knicks in their preseason opener here at Barclays Center on Oct. 3.
The Islanders played their third exhibition game in front of a sparse crowd of 4,744 at Downtown’s Barclays Center on Tuesday night, suffering a 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Defenseman David Quenneville, the Isles’ second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, scored the lone goal for New York to knot the contest at 1-1 in the second period.
However, Philadelphia responded with four unanswered tallies, all of which came against newly acquired netminder Robin Lehner, who is projected to be incumbent Thomas Greiss’ main competition for the starting job in net this season.
“I think we can play a little better defensively,” new Isles head coach Barry Trotz said. “We looked a little bit fatigued and I think that’s the grind of training camp.”
“We did some good things offensively, we had some good chances, but couldn’t find the back of the net,” added Trotz. “I thought our penalty kill was much better. It was obviously a bit of a different group, but at the same time, I thought some of the details were much better.”
The Isles will return to the ice here at Barclays on Thursday night, when they host the New Jersey Devils.
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