The Brooklyn Nets’ youthful pieces were rarely given consistent minutes this season. A large part of their lack of development was systemic.
Kenny Atkinson, now the former head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, had his flaws; it is hard to refute such. Overall, he did a pretty remarkable job of keeping the ship above water given the circumstances, but he—by no means—was perfect. Of his flaws, one could immediately point out how he allocated minutes to his younger talent, which was subpar at best. The kids were never really handed a fair shot this season.
Atkinson tightening up the rotation down the stretch and playing the guys he trusts, aka the veterans, is justifiable, don’t get me wrong.
Especially when you take into consideration that securing the seventh seed compared to floundering to the eighth can make the difference between potentially stealing a game in the opening round or perhaps even giving a contender a genuine run for their money, for the more optimistic crowd, and playing a brief four-game series against the Milwaukee Bucks.
But at the same time, sit back and really reflect on what this lost season means. With no Kyrie Irving, no Kevin Durant, and a team that has been inconsistent for the entirety of the 2019/20 campaign…what harm is there in giving the kids some run?
I mean, would you not want to give them an opportunity to get reps in to either increase their trade market or find a rhythm entering next season, when things get a tad bit more serious?
There were far too many instances where Atkinson essentially iced the young guns, despite a string of impressive outings. You could point out matchups, or again, a desire to play the veterans—who have been there and done that—but the chances that they’d survive the offseason are rather slim. The short-term vs long-term implications were of much significance.
It’s outings such as January 2, where Dzanan Musa, who had struggled to find any semblance of consistency all season despite possessing serious skill and upside as a dynamic scorer, finally had a breakthrough of sorts against an elite team, the Dallas Mavericks. In that game, he went six-of-seven from the field for 14 points in just 17 minutes of action. That’s something to build on but he only played two minutes the following game.
Or you could point out Rodions Kurucs‘ strong stretch of play during the final three weeks of January, where he was shooting the three-ball at an insanely efficient clip (46.9 percent on 2.5 attempts per game). That month also saw a gaudy performance against the Miami Heat on January 10, where he registered 19 points (season-high) in a huge win that snapped the Nets’ seven-game losing streak at the time.
From there on out, he only laced up the sneakers in nine of the Nets’ remaining 18 games until the NBA’s hiatus. He was finally starting to find a rhythm, and then he was essentially excommunicated from the lineup. This was a player that was a significant contributor last season, a spark plug who translated to winning basketball—something the team desperately needed.
And then, arguably the most upsetting case of all, there was Nicolas Claxton.
A 20-year-old kid whose upside has reached tantalizing levels. He’s switchable on the defensive end; he has a steady handle for a big his size; his shooting form looks serviceable; he can take flat-footed opponents off the dribble and even push the tempo on a fast break, and he has an insanely high motor.
Is he still relatively raw at this point? Indubitably. But following performances against two of the NBA’s best in the Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers where he scored in double figures, and then went to Detroit as a fill-in center and arguably outplayed Andre Drummond—one of the league’s most physical players—there was reason to give him consistent burn.
However, that’s not what happened. Those aforementioned contests were in the final week of January, and in the remaining five weeks he only saw 18 minutes of action on an NBA hardwood.
There is context, though. Those five weeks weren’t exactly wasted, he did string together some impressive performances down in Long Island—the Nets’ G-League affiliate—it’s just he was doing the same but on an NBA floor. You’d like to build off of that.
The team’s youth also struggled in their limited time on the floor, that’s irrefutable. Part of their lack of minutes was due to self-inflicted wounds but one could rationally point out a certain stubbornness shown by their previous head coach.
It’s not exactly easy finding rhythm or consistency when minutes are handed out in an unsystematic fashion and trips to the doghouse are frequent. How minutes were handed out to the team’s youth didn’t allow for much success and for that, yeah, the team did fail them.