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Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson Offer a Brooklyn Nets Preseason Briefing

Improving defense and rebounding will be a big part of goal to take another step forward

With media day and training camp coming up next week, Nets general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson gave the 2018-19 season a little bit of an informal tip off with their preseason press conference Tuesday afternoon at HSS Training Center.

Here's five key items they addressed with the preseason opener against the Knicks two weeks away.

REBOUNDING IS PARAMOUNT

Brooklyn's offseason acquisitions made it clear that improving on the boards was a priority. A year ago the Nets were 19th in in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and ranked 28th in second chance points allowed.

The first move was signing free agent Ed Davis, who last season rebounded at a career-high rate of 14.1 per 36 minutes. Then came Kenneth Faried in a trade with Denver, and finally an agreement with veteran Alan Williams to fill one of Brooklyn's two-way contract spots.

"Obviously Ed fills a rebounding need for us," said Atkinson. "He's a proven rebounder in this league. A proven screener. Definitely adds great physicality. Kenneth also, good rebounder, great energy guy. I think rebounding's going to be a big theme for us defensively. So those guys are going to add a little beef and physicality and toughness. Really welcome additions to the team."

IT'S ALL PART OF A DEFENSIVE FOCUS

The attention to rebounding is part of a bigger focus on cleaning things up defensively after the Nets ranked in the bottom 10 in defensive rating for the second straight year.

"I think defense is an area where we've kind of stayed at the same level rankings wise with our defense over the first two seasons," said Atkinson. "I'd like to take a jump and improve that area. I think we were 30th in the league in creating turnovers. I think that's an area where upping our activity, that's a big area for us this year of improvement."

The Nets were strong in forcing teams into two-point attempts and limiting them to 50.3 percent shooting there, one of the top 10 marks in the league. With that they allowed the fewest 3-point attempts in the NBA. But opponent 3-point shooting percentage, a lack of turnovers, defensive rebounding and associated second-chance points were issues.

"I think it starts with individual improvement," said Atkinson. "You look at a guy like Jarrett Allen. Excellent year protecting the rim, excellent year playing pick and roll defense. But his rebounding numbers have to come up for him to take a jump. I think that's the case with each of our guys. They have to make individual jumps, and then collectively as a staff, we can improve on better schemes, more adjustments. We have to provide the schemes that allows these guys to be put in positions to be successful."

JARRETT ALLEN, MYSTERY MAN

A year ago, the great unknown about Jarrett Allen was how the 19-year-old would adapt to the NBA and whether he would contribute much as a rookie at all. The center blew away expectations in earning a starting position before the end of January.

Now the question is, how good can Allen really be? What are the limits on his potential? What's next?

"I think it's hard to put him in a box right now," said Atkinson. "Every day we're learning what type of player he could be. He showed last year he could make a corner three, which we weren't sure that was the case. That's not why we drafted him. We really have to be careful with him because he is so talented. We really have to define his role. It really starts on the defensive end with his rim protection, his versatility, his ability to play pick and roll defense.

"Obviously the improvement area of rebounding. And then offense, he's the guy that puts pressure on the rim for us, whether it's running the court. The guy's an Olympic sprinter. He's just a modern center in the NBA with the way he puts pressure on the rim with his rolling to the rim. We're excited about him. I think he's got a lot in the toolbox."

MORE SECOND-YEAR JUMPS?

Last season, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert all showed significant improvement in their second year in Brooklyn, following their first full offseason under the guidance of the team's staff.

This year, D'Angelo Russell and Allen Crabbe fit that profile, along with Allen.

"D'Angelo's had a fantastic offseason in improving his body and working on his game," said Atkinson. "So we expect Allen Crabbe also, first full offseason, and Jarrett too, first offseason in entirety, and I think you're going to see those guys make jumps."

A knee injury left Russell's 2017-18 season somewhat incomplete as he was limited to 48 games, but still led the Nets with 15.5 points per game. Crabbe, the 6-foot-6 sharpshooter, came on strong and showed a developing game over the second half of the season, averaging 15.1 points, and shooting 41.4 percent from 3-point range after the All-Star break. He put a bow on things with a 41-point outing against the Bulls on April 9.

"Confidence," said Atkinson. "I think he's realizing what he can do. He obviously had some big games for us. I praised him all year. I think he's taken a step defensively too. I loved how he competed on the defensive end. With an offseason, with our performance team, I think he's gotten stronger. I think he's worked on his endurance. He's just going to have to do it more consistently. That's his quest this year. Do it more consistently."

WE'VE GOT 17

The Nets' roster is complete with general manager Sean Marks' confirmation that rookie Theo Pinson will be the second two-way contract, on the heels of the widely reported signing of fourth-year forward Alan Williams to a two-way deal.

Last season the Nets cycled through four two-way players, all younger, developmental players. Williams does not fit that profile. Pinson does.

The 6-foot-6 swingman won a national championship during his four years at North Carolina and played for the Nets Summer League squad in Las Vegas, averaging 11.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 25.0 minutes over five games.

"It's staying flexible throughout the year," said Marks of how the Nets will utilize the two-way contracts in their second season. "We'll see what happens. If we do have a guy in mind, Theo Pinson is going to be our two-way guy, if that hasn't been out there yet, it probably should have been. We're excited about what we saw in him over the course of his college career. Our coaching staff got to evaluate him during the draft process. Lot of intangibles. Coached well. You can coach him hard. He wants to learn. And he's got some experience."

Williams is a 6-8, 260-pound forward who played 62 games over three seasons in Phoenix, missing the first five months of the 2017-18 season after knee surgery. Over his career, he's averaged 15.0 rebounds per 36 minutes.

"I think with Alan, when you're getting talent like that in your gym, it always helps," said Marks. "As Kenny alluded to before, there was a need at that position. So to bring in a player of his stature and that has played at the NBA level before, the fact that he's a two-way guy, again we're never going to limit it and say he's only playing here or there. As Kenny's always alluded to, it's open competition in training camp, which I think is great for everybody."

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