Kenny Atkinson ready to work with Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas
Nets coach reacts to new arrivals for first time since Mexico City return
Kenny Atkinson didn’t waste any time getting to work with Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas.
The Nets coach was back at HSS Training Center on Sunday after the team flew home following Saturday night’s game in Mexico City, ready to welcome the two newest Nets.
“I told them it’s like the first day of school,” said Atkinson before Tuesday night’s game against the Washington Wizards at Barclays Center. “You had to go to orientation and you had to go to study, we put them through the ringer. I think we’re anxious to get to know them better, but I think him and Nik had a great first day. We do physical evaluation, basketball evaluation, just a lot of stuff to do. So we put a lot on their plate that first day.”
Following the Sunday workout and a Monday team practice, Tuesday evening provided Atkinson’s first comments on Okafor and Stauskas since the team returned from Mexico City.
The coach wasn’t certain if Okafor or Stauskas would play on Tuesday night, or when they would see their first game action as Nets.
“This isn’t CYO, where you show up at four o’clock and you meet your teammates and you just throw them out there,” said Atkinson. “We have a ton of plays, a defensive system. We want to put both those guys in a position to succeed, a position to help the team. I can’t give you an exact date. I just know we’re going to keep working with them and keep integrating them, obviously get them integrated as soon as possible. We have another practice day coming up, so that will be good. I wish we had four days where we could do a mini training camp, but it’s just not the case. As a staff we’re going to work hard to get those guys up to speed and ready.”
Okafor’s post-oriented game has led to questions about his fit with the wide-open Nets offense. But while Brook Lopez did launch 387 3-pointers while playing center for Brooklyn last season, this year’s group of Tyler Zeller, Jarrett Allen and Timofey Mozgov has put up 26 total. So if Okafor is going to operate primarily in the paint for now, he’s not an outlier with the current big men.
“It’s my job as a coach and our staff to help him fit into the system,” said Atkinson. “He’s a talented player. Very willing passer. We do play through the post. I think it’s part of our system and maybe you’ll see us playing through there a little more with him. It’s my job to figure out how to integrate him best and figure out how best he can help the team. That’s a coach’s job.”
Aside from getting used to new surroundings and new systems, Okafor and Stauskas simply haven’t played much basketball so far this year. Combined, they’ve seen 70 minutes of action over eight games.
“They have to earn it,” said Atkinson of potential playing time. “It’s got to be evident to their teammates and their coaches that they deserve the minutes. As they play better they’ll get more minutes. We don’t play guys huge minutes. We share the load game-to-game. I do think there’s going to be opportunity for both of them. Then you have to play well and earn more. There’s no way we’re thinking, ‘oh man, we’ve got all these guys, he’s out.’ It’ll happen.”