The Brooklyn Nets finally stepped on the basketball court ready to give first-year head coach Kenny Atkinson a look at how his system plays against NBA competition.
The 2016-17 preseason opener for the Nets also gave fans their first look at their biggest signing of the offseason, point guard Jeremy Lin.
Lin didn’t disappoint the home crowd and neither did his teammates. The Nets pulled away late for a 101-94 win over the Detroit Pistons, Thursday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“It was cool, Lin said afterwards on what it feels like to play in a Nets uniform. “It was really cool. I think we train, we work out for months and months, and to be able to play in a real jersey against somebody else – we’re so sick of playing against each other, so it was fun, a lot of fun.”
Lin finished with 21 points, three rebounds, and one assist in 17 minutes of action, he drained five of eight from behind the three-point line.
When Lin wasn’t making three’s he was either getting into the paint or making the extra pass to help set up a high-percentage shots for his teammates. It may not have shown in the assist column, however Lin did a solid job of not just making the extra pass but making the smart pass. This is just as important a skill for a point guard to possess, having excellent court vision.
“I’m sure you guys saw, he just opens so much just by attacking and penetrating and continuing to be a threat for everyone else and we all really thrived off that,” said center Brook Lopez after the game. “I think it’s just going to get better from here.”
While fans are watching how Lin looks in a Nets uniform on the court, so is the team’s new coach from the sidelines.
Atkinson brings a reputation of exceptional player development skills with him to Brooklyn. Lin happens to be one of his most-prized examples, the two worked together while with the Knicks where Atkinson was an assistant coach for Mike D’Antoni.
Now they’re back together, only this time across the Brooklyn Bridge.
After five minutes of watching Atkinson work the sidelines, it’s easy to see why his hiring was so well-received throughout the NBA. His energy level is high, this is good because it’ll need to be in order to develop such a young roster into the team he envisions.
One of Atkinson’s goals is for the Nets to establish an identity on defense. If their first preseason game was any indication, this will be a work in progress for Brooklyn.
The Nets got off to a slow start defending the Pistons but by the second half they were clearly the more active team. Nine of the fifteen Nets Atkinson played registered at least one steal. Brooklyn held Detroit to 5 of 22 for 22.7 percent from the three-point line.
“Good effort from our guys,” said Atkinson after the game. “I thought we struggled in the first half against a good offensive team. But the positive side of that was I think they scored 35 points in the second half, so I think we picked up our activity. I think we were just more active. We got in passing lanes, I think we caused a lot of havoc out there, so that was a real positive defensively.”
If the Nets play the type of defense they did in the second half against Detroit, it’ll make the game much easier and more fun for them this season. Another key will of course be the play of Lin.
Lin’s pick and roll style of play is what makes him an ideal fit for an offense centered around Lopez.
Lopez only played in the first half, a planned move by Atkinson, so we’ll all have to wait to see just how well he clicks with Lin in the pick and roll.
Lin’s ability to shoot the ball, at times, can fly under the radar. When his shot’s falling it can open up the offense for everyone.
Against Detroit, Lin was hot early and he stayed that way for the rest of his time on the court. His shot release was smooth and at times he looked at ease playing in front of the home crowd.
“It felt great,” said Lin afterwards of his shot release. “I got in the zone and honestly if I wasn’t so caught up in trying to hit some more, I think my last two would have dropped if I wasn’t thinking about it and just shooting it the same way I shot previous six, seven, eight.”
Every night won’t be a version of the three-point shootout for Lin. For the Nets, however, when he’s on they’ll be best served to ride that wave for as long as it’s there.
“It was a message early on,” said Atkinson about Lin’s offense. “It was a message from the time we signed him, like trust that shot. I think it’s a really good shot, and it’s technically sound. If he’s open, we want him to shoot it, so that was a positive.”
It’s only one preseason game, but so far it looks as if Atkinson’s system will do just fine for Brooklyn.