The Hawks’ coaching tree has grown yet again. Assistant coach Kenny Atkinson will now be the second assistant under Coach Mike Budenholzer to accept a head coaching job in his short tenure with Atlanta. Despite a few more speed bumps this season, the Hawks are still a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference and other teams are taking notice. The team’s roster lacks a true superstar, however, with an emphasis on player development and the proper execution of a system, the team once again looks primed for a potential playoff run this season.
Coach Bud is part of the San Antonio Spurs coaching tree. He was an assistant with the team for nearly two decades. Now, it’s Coach Bud whose assistants are leaving left and right. Teams want a piece of success, and Gregg Popovich and Budenholzer are easily two of the best coaches in the NBA. Quinn Snyder has done a terrific job with the Utah Jazz and building a young core that could help them compete in the Western Conference for years to come. Brooklyn clearly wants a guy who can run an efficient brand of basketball and develop young talent, much like Synder has done. They could not have chosen a better candidate.
New Brooklyn GM Sean Marks is now following his vision for his new team with the coaching hire, but he has just about no choice but to start from scratch. Though the team sneaked into the playoffs last year, the wheels totally fell off in 2015-16. The team had just 21 victories last season, good for third-worst in the NBA. The roster is abysmal, with just a few long-term assets for Atkinson and Marks to work with. The good news is that their new head coach has been instrumental in the development of young players in Atlanta. The team has had a great track record of having second round picks become difference-making role players, and a lot of it comes down on Danny Ferry’s first hire as Hawks GM: Atkinson. He will be able to find players that fit his style of play and begin his own legacy in the NBA.
Here is an excerpt from our May, 2015 article featuring Atkinson as a hot potential head coaching candidate:
Atkinson strives on player development. It’s clear to see the strides that Hawks players have made since the arrival of the new coaching staff, and a lot of people will pat Mike Budenholzer on the back for this. While obviously he deserves a TON of credit, Kenny Atkinson is a big part of this as well. Atkinson was a player himself. He played collegiate ball at the University of Richmond, and then played professionally for various countries around the globe. Atkinson has an international flavor to his coaching resume as well. He was the director of player development/assistant coach for Paris Basket Racing Club from 2004-06, and held the same title for the Republic of Georgia national team in summer 2006. He made his jump to the NBA when he served as the Houston Rockets Director of Player Development from 2007-2008 After his tenure with the Rockets, Atkinson became an Assistant Coach for the Knicks from 2008-2012, before joining the Hawks staff, where he has served under both Larry Drew and Mike Budenholzer. He was Danny Fery’s first hire.
If you get to Phillips Arena early enough before games, you’ll see Atkinson and Darvin Ham in their sweats helping drill and warm up their players. He is a player’s coach. According to former Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman, “There is nobody better than Kenny at developing players.” Remember Jeremy Lin? Atkinson was instrumental in “Linsanity” back in his time with the Knicks. Lin is quoted in an article by Frank Isola saying, “I’ll text after a game at midnight, 1 o’clock when I go home and I’ll say, ‘Hey can I look at those turnovers. Can I look at the upcoming team? How they run pick and rolls?’ And he’ll have the film ready when I walk into the facility the next morning.” Atkinson’s devotion to the sport as well as his players is second to none. Working under Budenholzer and Mike D’Antoni, Atkinson has also worked under highly efficient offenses. He knows his X’s and O’s. He will space the floor and promote a ton of quick ball movement.
Atkinson is a player’s coach, and that is vital when considering that he will likely be dealing with a struggling, young team. It’s not a sexy gig. But it’s a head coaching job, and Atkinson deserves it. Going with a guy like Atkinson is a much better move than plucking another guy from the NBA coaching cycle who has already been fired a handful of times. He’s qualified, and frankly the only better option out there currently is Tom Thibodeau.
The Hawks are now building a network throughout the league. Fans just better hope Atkinson does not try to convince Sean Marks to pursue Al Horford and drive up Atlanta’s contract offer this summer, when he’s eligible to nearly double his salary. It was interesting to see the Jazz acquire Shelvin Mack this past season. Snyder has done a great job, and Atkinson should as well. Seeing assistants landing head coaching gigs will make Atlanta a much more desirable location for coaches looking to pursue greener pastures.
Congratulations, Kenny. You have helped build a great product in Atlanta and deserve this exciting opportunity.