Defense First as Nets Open Training Camp

If a team is going to have a defense-first mentality, then it only makes sense that the first day of training camp be focused on defense.

That was at the top of Coach Kenny Atkinson’s agenda on Tuesday – the first day with the entire Brooklyn Nets roster hustling up and down the floor at HSS Training Center for training camp. The coach estimated between 60-70 percent of his first official practice was focused on team defense and defensive principles.

“We need to be clear on what we’re doing right from the first day,” Atkinson said. “It’s the first thing we addressed and we understand that we need balance to be a good team, we understand that, so it’s not like we’re forgetting about the offense, but that was our mindset a little bit.”

Atkinson singled out two core defensive areas the Nets were working at on Day One: transition defense and pick-and-roll defense.

“Transition defense is huge today in the NBA,” he said. “That’s where it starts and teams are rushing the ball up quicker and quicker every year, so teams want to score early in the shot clock, so getting our transition defense set and then after that it’s your pick and roll defense. In the NBA pick-and-rolls are coming every day, everywhere, every place, so just giving our guys a comfort level and again right off the bat, saying this is what we’re doing in those situations.”

Atkinson was hired out of Atlanta, where the Hawks had the second-highest defensive rating in the NBA last season (0.986) and allowed the sixth-fewest points-per-game (99.2).

In Brooklyn, Atkinson is working with a different group of players – made up of young, developing talent as well as seasoned, proven vets. Free agent acquisition Trevor Booker had a top-30 defensive rating (102.1), which would have topped the Nets, but now is the time for Atkinson to establish new habits and systems and on day one, his players were embracing it.

“That’s key, especially for a team like us,” Sean Kilpatrick said of the focus on defense. “We have a versatile group that one through four, it’s like everyone can switch a bit, so we need to make sure we’re doing everything on the transition defensive part and making sure that everyone is on one court.”

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – who had the Nets best defensive rating last season at 103 – echoed that sentiment and embraced the new coach’s philosophy.

“We got a lot of things in. We listened, we learned, we enjoyed it at the end of the day,” Hollis-Jefferson said during a Brooklyn Nets Facebook Live courtside interview with Chris Carrino and Tim Capstraw. “That’s big for guys to embrace the learning experience. As far as the process goes, you have to embrace these things and learn on the fly.”

Kilpatrick said the first day also had a focus on conditioning, but given how many hours he and his teammates were putting into the gym all summer, there wasn’t much huffing-and-puffing on the first day.

“A lot of conditioning, but some guys we’ve been here since May, so now it’s like tuning up a little bit,” Kilpatrick said. “We’re basically used to this now. We’ve been doing it for the last couple of months.”

Chris Mullin drops by Nets Training Camp

Brooklyn basketball legend and current St. John’s basketball coach Chris Mullin dropped by HSS Training Center for the first day of Brooklyn Nets training camp. Mullin, a five-time NBA all-star, 16-year vet and former Golden State Warriors general manager, came by to chat with some players, head coach Kenny Atkinson and observe the scene in his backyard.

“I’ve been texting with Chris and I was shocked when he texted me and said he wanted to come by,” Atkinson said. “I wanted him to say hello to our players. This guy was born in Brooklyn, was a great player, a coach at St. Johns. I think it’s good for our players to be aware of a little bit of the history of Brooklyn basketball and he’s obviously one of the pillars, or best players ever.”