Howard Beck just wrote the most in-depth article about Jeremy Lin’s bond with Kenny Atkinson. Back when I was fixated on Jeremy Lin joining the Nets, I felt that Lin and Atkinson have a connection that is closer than the one Lin has with D’Antoni. Well, this article, entitled “Linsanity a Memory, Nets Offering Second Act for Jeremy Lin and Kenny Atkinson” delves into this.
At the peak of Linsanity, Jeremy Lin scrawled four plays on a piece of paper and handed it to Atkinson prior to tip off. Well, it’s four years later and Atkinson still has that scratch paper on which Lin drew out those plays. That should tell you how much Atkinson thinks of Jeremy Lin.
Not only has Atkinson kept this piece of scratch paper, he has also continued to watch Lin’s games and text Lin the morning after good games praising Lin’s passing or pace:
“I was just like, ‘Dude, we’re three years removed from New York. Why are you still, like, watching my games, you know?'” Lin said, chuckling. “I knew he always still cared about me. I just knew, like, we weren’t going to be able to have the same dialogue we used to.”
But the texts continued—Atkinson congratulating Lin on his moves to L.A. and Charlotte, and Lin checking in when the Hawks made a big playoff run.
It’s pretty clear from the article that Atkinson respects Lin a great deal. Here’s an excerpt that exemplifies this:
Where another player might just follow directions blindly, Lin would question everything, then add his own take.
“He’d say it politely, but he would see things almost two levels deep,” Atkinson said. “In film, it was the same way. He would accept the coaching, but then he was curious about other things that happened in that particular play. And then he would see things that I wouldn’t see.”
And sometimes Atkinson would see things that Lin refused to see—a moment when he should have attacked but took the easy jumper.
“Stubborn as hell,” Atkinson said of Lin, who laughs heartily when the quote is relayed to him.
“That’s awesome,” Lin, still laughing, said without dismissing the assertion. “There’s times where he’s just like, ‘Aw, you’re not going to listen to me.’ And I’ll just start dying laughing.”
This is why I’m not going to nitpick the coaching this season. Unlike in past seasons, I know Lin finally has a coach who respects him and will be open to his ideas. I am aware that a lot of Lin fans are complaining about the lack of PnRs, etc. If I didn’t feel Lin and Atkinson have a close bond, I would complain about this, as well. But this season, I am more patient, since I know Lin has probably already talked to Atkinson in depth about a lot of the concerns he has and they’re both trying to figure it all out as the season wears on.
They have been together for just four months, but Lin said he and Atkinson have spoken more in that time than Lin did in his entire two years with McHale or his one season with Scott.
“There’s definitely a special bond,” Atkinson said. “It’s beyond coach-player. It’s respect, but friendship really.”
Back when I was fixated on Lin joining the Nets, I felt strongly that Lin would never forget that Atkinson was the one who believed in him when he was a nobody. That stuff matters a great deal to Lin and in this article, Lin says pretty much just what I’ve been thinking:
“I was literally the 15th guy,” Lin said. “Everyone knew I was going to get cut. I knew I was going to get cut. And [Atkinson] was still pouring everything into me like I was his star player. And so to me, that’s when I saw, hey, this guy’s a man of character. And I’ll never have to question that about him. Because I saw how he treated me before everything happened.”
This article also makes me realize that Atkinson wants Lin to be more of a passing PG than a scoring PG, which is a concern for me. During Linsanity, while fans “gushed over Lin’s scoring prowess,” Atkinson felt Lin’s passing was underappreciated. Also, here’s another excerpt that sheds light on why Atkinson wants Lin to be more of a passing PG:
By the time free agency opened July 1, Atkinson had made his pitch to Marks.
“There was a certain point in that process,” Atkinson said, now slapping the table in his Brooklyn office for effect, “like, ‘Sean, we gotta get Jeremy.’ We gotta go get him.'”
Others were unsure. Could Lin, a scoring sixth man in Charlotte, be a full-time starting point guard?
“Yes,” Atkinson kept telling them. “Yes, I believe in it. Yes, yes, yes, yes.”
“In the back of my mind, the whole time I knew,” Atkinson said. “I knew he was the right guy.”
Apparently, some in Nets’s management weren’t sure Lin could be a full-time starting PG, since Lin played more of a scoring sixth-man role. Atkinson was adamant that Lin could be a full-time starting PG. So I think this is probably why Atkinson has been emphasizing that Lin needs to be more of a distributor. This concerns me, because I think Lin is better off being equally a scoring and passing PG with more weight given to scoring. Those who watch Lin’s games closely will notice that when Lin scores, he ends up racking up assists and gets all his teammates involved, because Lin’s game really opens up when he scores. I hope Lin will be able to convince Atkinson of this at some point in the season.
And for those Lin fans who want a lot more PnRs, I don’t think it’s going to happen, unfortunately. Like I wrote in the previous article, I’m expecting Atkinson’s system to be 70 percent or more motion offense. Apparently, Atkinson’s only concern about Lin is that Lin might expect a PnR heavy system that launched Linsanity:
If Atkinson had one concern, it was that Lin might expect the same pick-and-roll-heavy system that helped launch Linsanity. Atkinson is using a motion offense patterned after Atlanta’s.
But Lin proved a willing student once again. The ball might be in his hands less. The stats might not reach the heights of Linsanity. But he is settling in nicely.
“He understands there’s a lot of different ways to play,” Atkinson said. “I think that’s pretty cool, the maturity of understanding that.”
Because Atkinson has already made clear to Lin that his system won’t be PnR heavy, I don’t think there’s much Lin can do to change Atkinson’s system into a more PnR heavy offense, since I’m assuming Lin agreed to a motion offense when Lin signed with the Nets. So it looks like we’re going to be stuck with that. I actually do like motion offense, but I also would want more of a balance with PnRs. I think if Brook Lopez continues to struggle in the motion offense, Atkinson may think about adding more PnRs. We’ll see. But I have a feeling the constant complaint by Lin fans this season is the lack of PnRs in Atkinson’s offense.
The article ends beautifully with this sentiment:
There are no quick fixes in Brooklyn, not anymore. The Nets need a lot more talent and a lot more time. But they will start with this bond, between the rookie head coach and the headstrong point guard, each with so much yet to prove—two nobodies striving to leave a legacy.
“I can’t wait to see how this turns out,” Atkinson said. “Because I’m a believer.”