Brooklyn Nets: Kenny Atkinson didn’t waver from the plan

(Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said after the loss to the New York Knicks earlier this week he might think about a lineup change, but instead he dug in.

There were many who thought the Brooklyn Nets needed to put Jared Dudley out to pasture after the New York Knicks crushed the Nets Monday night in part due to a rebounding discrepancy of minus-21.

I’ll raise my hand and cop to being in that group.

Coach Kenny Atkinson said after the loss that a lineup change might be something to consider.

Atkinson, in his third season as the coach of the Nets, hasn’t enjoyed a lot of success thus far since agreeing to take over the rebuilding club in 2016.

But his vision from the time he got to Brooklyn has been to play a pace-and-space system heavy on ball movement and using the 3-pointer as a weapon.

Ultimately, Atkinson stuck with the same lineup he had used for the first seven games of the season, albeit while imploring them to attack the glass as a unit rather than simply leave it to the bigs to do the work.

With the Detroit Pistons and their mammoth front line coming to Barclays Center, it was a risky call.

And — showing why I’m here doing this and he’s coaching an NBA basketball franchise — Atkinson made it work.

Dudley, who has started more games already this season (eight) than he had the previous two years combined, rose to the challenge defensively, kept the spacing and ball movement intact on the offensive end even as he couldn’t find the touch and did enough under the boards.

Brooklyn was inspired on the glass Wednesday night, something that will have to be sustained. But to battle the gigantic Pistons to a 55-55 draw and win the offensive board tally 18-14 was completely unexpected.

And as for Dudley’s role, it changed rapidly in the preseason. The Nets were already without one of their options at the 4, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, when DeMarre Carroll went out with a right ankle injury and subsequent surgery.

Carroll provides floor spacing from the 4, as does Dudley. So, too, did Treveon Graham, who was seeing some minutes at the 4 before he was lost to a hamstring injury, and rookie Rodions Kurucs … until he sprained an ankle.

So the pace-and-space coach was left eventually to choose between a legitimate threat from deep in Dudley or a better defender and rebounder in Hollis-Jefferson who doesn’t need to be guarded until he’s within 15-18 feet of the cup.

Atkinson chose the spacing. And on Wednesday night, it worked. The Nets were able to keep the Pistons defense spread out and, when the unit on the floor committed to moving the ball, scrambling to cover open shooters.

The margin of error for the Nets remains crepe-paper thin. Even with the addition of veterans such as Dudley, Ed Davis and Kenneth Faried, Brooklyn is the fifth-youngest team in the NBA with an average player age of 25.3 years.

Only the rebuilding Chicago Bulls, rebuilding Knicks, perpetually rebuilding Sacramento Kings and the about-to-show-something-from-rebuilding Denver Nuggets are younger.

There is more talent now than there was when general manager Sean Marks was hired and brought in Atkinson to coach in 2016. Considerably more.

But this is still a very, very young group of players that need time to figure out what this whole being a professional basketball player is all about.

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Staying true to the system and the process was the right call, even if the impatience in all of us as fans makes that hard to recognize at times.