While a 2-4 start to a season may not sound impressive, the Brooklyn Nets have performed a lot better than many people believed they would. Besides for a blowout loss against the Bulls, the Nets lost their other three games by a combined 11 points. Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach Andy Greer has watched the tape and seen that Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson is getting maximum effort from his team, a roster that consists of five players that are 23 or younger.
"They're playing younger guys than they did in the past," Greer told SNY.tv. "But you know, they still have Brook Lopez, who's really good. They're playing really hard. Kenny [Atkinson] is doing a good job with them."
It is no surprise that Lopez is the leader and star of this young Brooklyn Nets team. In his ninth season with the franchise, Lopez has been the one consistant factor for the Nets throughout the years. But this season has seen a new addition to Lopez's arsenal of moves.
In his first eight years in the NBA, the 7-foot center out of Stanford attempted 31 three pointers and made only three of them. In five games this season, Lopez has already shot 21 from long range, and has made seven of them. As the leader of Minnesota's defense, Greer knows that slowing Lopez down, both inside the paint and from long range, is vital for the Timberwolves to beat the Nets tonight.
"We want to try and make his catches difficult," Greer said about Lopez. "But the one thing he's done is he's expanded his game to include three-point shooting. So we're going to have to play him both inside and out and be ready to contest his three-point shot as well."
Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Nets has been the play of 26-year old Sean Kilpatrick. While Kilpatrick has been around the league for a few seasons now, it was not until he joined Brooklyn last season that he really got a chance to play and show the league his talent. In 23 games last season, the shooting guard averaged 13.8 points in 23.2 minutes per game, and shot the ball 36.1% from the three-point line.
Through the first six games this season, Kilpatrick is playing 26.2 minutes a game, all off the bench, and is averaging 17.0 points. If those numbers weren't impressive enough, the Yonkers native is shooting 41.4% from long range, the best three-point shooting percentage of his career and the highest on the Nets.
"Our team, we're going to have to be well-aware of who he is," said Greer. "He is an excellent shooter, he's proven that over the years. And now he's just getting more of an opportunity to play bigger minutes. But the people in the league are well-aware of his ability to shoot the basketball."
While the Timberwolves will be looking to stop Lopez and Kilpatrick tonight, the Nets will have their hands full attempting to do the same with Minnesota's core of young stars.
The Timberwolves have done an amazing job over the last few years of assembling a roster full of young talent, with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn all 22 or younger. While having all of these guys on rookie contracts sounds great on paper, there are some difficulties that come with starting so many young players.
"Our challenge as coaches, and their challenge as players, is just to speed up the proces in developing into better players," Greer told SNY.tv. "There's a lot of people that have potential, our challenge is to make it happen quicker than it normally takes in the NBA because there's a learning curve going from college. You just don't come into this league and be a great player. It takes time, studying, and working at your game, and that's the challenge for all of us, is to help them develop sooner rather than later."
In Greer's first season as Minnesota's assistant coach in charge of the defense, the Timberwolves have already improved from 23rd in the NBA in opponents points per game last year, to 10th this year. While it is nice to see this improvement, Greer is not nearly satisfied with Minnesota's defense thus far.
"We have high standards. Certainly we're happy we're 10th at this point, but it's very early in the season," said Greer about his team's defense. "We have to continue to improve upon our habits. Our defense, to be quite frank, has not been very good. You take one game out and put another game in, it changes a lot this early in the season. It's too early to determine if a defense is good or bad at this point. Certainly it's good to be 10th compared to 23rd, but hopefully those improvements will be over 82 games and not five."
The Nets (2-4) and Timberwolves (1-4) tip-off from Barclays Center at 7:30pm tonight.