Why Kenny Atkinson could be exactly what the Raptors need

Amit Mann is joined by Anthony Puccio to discuss Kenny Atkinson’s unconventional coaching style, what NBA players have said about him, his offensive/defensive philosophies and how it would work with the Raptors and more! Full episode is on the 'Raptors Over Everything' podcast feed or watch on the Yahoo Sports Canada YouTube.

Video Transcript

AMIT MANN: Man, I was looking at stuff about him yesterday and looked at the videos and what players are saying about him. Like, this guy is, like, cool. He's cool.

ANTHONY PUCCIO: Yeah. Yeah, he-- you know, I think what players like about him the most, especially when you look back at his Hawks days before his time even with the Nets, just as an assistant coach, this is a guy that spent so much time overseas playing, coaching.


ANTHONY PUCCIO: Someone that really had to earn their spot in this league. Becoming an assistant coach for the Knicks, and as I mentioned, the Hawks. You know, you think about guys like Al Horford, Paul Millsap, guys that have great relationships with him that have vouched for him so many times.


ANTHONY PUCCIO: So I think what people really like about him, I should say, specifically, players, is that he's somebody that one, they appreciate the hard work. This is somebody that's up at 5:00 in the morning running the treadmill, watching game tape from the day before. Just somebody who is an absolute, you know, gym rat. He doesn't ever want to leave.

And secondly, kind of segueing into that is that he's somebody that is on the court with these guys. He stays in shape. A former player himself, he stays in shape so that he can be in practice with these guys. Like, whether it's during the actual hours or whoever it is that's after hours that wants to stay and-- he's there, and I think they respect him because of that.

AMIT MANN: I mean, looking at some of the things about him, Joe Harris mentioned, exactly, he's up at 5:30 every single morning.


AMIT MANN: He's constantly working, constantly trying to find ways to help us get better. And you know, going through just some of the quotes from former players-- actually, let's just say this first. So he was an assistant with the Knicks for four years, then he was an assistant with the Atlanta Hawks for three seasons, four years with Brooklyn as head coach, assistant with the Clippers for one season, and the past two seasons, he's been with the Gold State Warriors, again as an assistant. At one point, he was the second assistant, then Mike Brown gets hired by the Kings-- congrats to you. Jordi Fernandez, another candidate, who is an assistant with the Kings, is also someone that could become the Toronto Raptors head coach.

And then he becomes first assistant for their year, I believe where-- yeah, where they won the championship, right? He was the first assistant?

ANTHONY PUCCIO: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

AMIT MANN: Yeah, so a heck of a career so far. And obviously, a head coach once more is definitely probably his calling. And just so we can get it out of the way, the Hornets job, he had it. It was his. And then he's like, I'm good. From your standpoint, what exactly happened?

ANTHONY PUCCIO: I'm kind of curious about that too, because at the time of all of that, you know, Miles Bridges had gotten in trouble and a lot of things in Charlotte world was just--


ANTHONY PUCCIO: --all over the place. So for Kenny, I was kind of looking at it as, you know, he had it pretty made in Golden State being a lead assistant there. Why rush into a situation in Charlotte that's quite frankly a bit of a circus, right? I don't think that he really had-- I don't think he really had high thoughts. I can't speak for him, but after that situation, you know, you heard rumors about something about the assistant coaches not really being able to get the pay that they wanted. So--


ANTHONY PUCCIO: I just think there was a lot of just mix-ups and things that probably weren't the right situation for him, again, where if you're going to leave a position where you can win a title with Golden State as a lead assistant coach, why rush into this process? And now, we're having this conversation about potentially taking over a Raptors team that's very, very talented and has had a solid culture for the past couple of years.

AMIT MANN: 100%. A few things with that, so he would have had to move his family for the third time in three years, and from what I understand about him, he's a family man, which again, we're going to get to. And also, being the lead assistant with the Golden State Warriors, not a bad gig at all. It may not be HC, it's AC, but it's still pretty cool working with Steve Kerr and the rest of those guys. And the fact that he has their grace, those guys trust him, that means something, too.

But with Kenny now, so as you said, he is a former player, 14 years playing overseas, and you can see there's a European influence to the way his offenses operate, to the way he coaches as well. So, just on that aspect, what do you think he gained from the European experience and how did it transfer over to the NBA?

ANTHONY PUCCIO: Well, I think there's the pros and cons, right? I think you have really, really, really a high emphasis on team basketball, right? And then we see that with European teams, and a lot of these coaches that come over from over there, they really preach that. So I think his thing is there's really no one star on a team. He wants everybody involved. He wants that ball moving as much as possible. He wants guys moving off ball, constantly setting screens, constantly moving. So I just think the pace and space style but also a team-oriented basketball is definitely taken from his time over there, also time spending with Bud and Mike D'Antoni.


ANTHONY PUCCIO: The other side of that coin is, you know, look, a lot of people in Brooklyn would tell you that, at times, he would take out the hot hand a little bit too early. He struggled to take timeouts at the right time, I think. You know, you'd be down on a 14-0 run and he would kind of just let the game flow. He wanted that pace to stay up. And again, on one side, you understand it. You want to let your players play through it, especially when he was in Brooklyn and you have a young team that you're trying to develop. But at times, it did bite them in the butt because, just again, selection of taking a hot hand out. D'Angelo Russell often complained about that. And otherwise, it's really from the European ball, really just that style of offense. No one star. This is going to be a team game, team culture.

AMIT MANN: And I could see how that could benefit the Toronto Raptors that have so many like-sized players. From what I understand of this team right now, that could change in a few weeks as we go forward into this off season. But when you have so many players that have capabilities to put the ball on the floor, who have some shooting ability-- obviously, there's degrees to it. There are some guys that are higher, others that are lower, but they can get downhill.

And if you combine that with the ability to attack closeouts, get to the paint, I think Kenny could have a lot of fun with this. And I think that's probably one of the reasons why he is in this position. Where he's one of the final four coaches, reportedly, for this Raptors job, is he's probably selling that Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, I could do some fun things with them. A lot of fun things with them in terms of, you know, are they screening for each other? Early sets, you know, using your big to get some of those early screens and possessions, continuing to keep the pace up. And I think the Raptors, they tried to play with pace, but they wanted to make that happen through their defense in terms of making turnovers happen and then getting out on the run.

There's ways to do it with your offense as well. And I believe they are one of the slower paced teams in terms of their half court. That has to change. Like, look at the teams that have been successful in these playoffs. They're pithy with their offense. The ball is moving. And Kenny Atkinson, I'm sure, would thrive with the Raptors and getting them to get to a different level with their half-court offense. That definitely has to happen.