Brooklyn Nets: 3 things to watch at NBA-leading Milwaukee

Brooklyn Nets Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /
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Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn Nets Kenny Atkinson. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images) /

2. Similar philosophies

The Milwaukee Bucks like to drive the ball and look to kick it out for open 3-point looks.

If that sounds familiar, it should. It’s how the Brooklyn Nets have looked to play since head coach Kenny Atkinson took over the club in 2016.

Before Atkinson took over the Nets, he was the lead assistant for the Atlanta Hawks for three seasons (2013-16) after being hired by head coach Mike Budenholzer after he grabbed the Atlanta gig in May 2013.

Budenholzer spent five seasons in Atlanta, going 213-197 and winning Coach of the Year honors in 2014-15 before parting ways with the Hawks last spring.

He was named the coach of the Bucks on May 16.

Atkinson is not a Budenholzer clone, but many of the philosophies of the two coaches are in alignment, particularly when it comes to generating offensive flow.

When the two were with the Hawks, they guided a team that lacked superstar talent to a 60-win season in 2014-15 with an egalitarian offensive approach that featured six players averaging in double-figures with no one averaging more than 12.7 shots or 16.7 points per game.

Brooklyn this season has six players averaging double-figures, even with the shot distribution slightly different — D’Angelo Russell averages 16.8 shots per game and Spencer Dinwiddie takes 12.5 — but Russell leads the team with a 17.9 points per game average.

Note that Caris LeVert was averaging 14.6 shots and 18.4 points per game before dislocating his right foot on Nov. 12.

Budenholzer has adjusted his approach to reflect the presence of a true superstar talent in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who averages 17 shots and 26.5 points per game.

But the Bucks still have three other players getting at least 10 shots a night and a fourth, Nets all-time leading scorer Brook Lopez, at 9.8 attempts per game.

Milwaukee emphasizes the 3-pointer, taking 39.3 deep shots per game and making 13.5 — both ranking No. 2 in the NBA. Khris Middleton takes seven attempts a night and Lopez is averaging 6.7 as the monster Atkinson unleashed in 2016-17 has turned into Splash Mountain in Milwaukee.

Brooklyn is third in the NBA with 33.9 takes and 12.1 makes from 3-point range and the Nets make them at a higher clip — their 35.8 percent mark is ninth in the NBA, while Milwaukee is 21st at 34.4 percent.

Russell leads the club with 6.7 3-point takes per game, with Dinwiddie at 5.6 and Joe Harris at 5.1.

If there is a perfect parallel to the Hawks under Budenholzer and the Nets under Atkinson, it is Harris, who has taken on the Kyle Korver role with off-ball movement, coming hard off screens and knocking down 3s at a high rate.

His 47.4 percent mark from 3 is third in the NBA behind Seth Curry of the Portland Trail Blazers and Davis Bertans of the San Antonio Spurs, but where Curry has 72 attempts on the year and Bertans is at 121, Harris has already taken 173 deep attempts.

The bottom line is that Saturday’s chess match between the opposing coaches will have a lot of similar styles and moves, with — on paper — Budenholzer having the better pieces to work with.