BOSTON – As an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks, Kenny Atkinson is known for his player development skills.
One of his greatest success stories is Al Horford, a back-to-the-basket big man with a limited face-up game, who transformed himself into a stretch center practically overnight.
Now the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, Atkinson will have to deal with his former protégé tonight when the Celtics host the Nets at the TD Garden.
“At the end of the day, I felt he could stretch the floor from the 3,” Atkinson said.
But convincing Horford of that, Atkinson thought, was not going to be easy.
“He’ll look at you and he’s a pretty calculated guy,” Atkinson said. “He was a little skeptical at first. Once we started working and we practice, practice all summer. He just embraced it.”
Indeed, the 3-point shot became an integral part of what Horford brought to the floor offensively.
In his first eight NBA season, Horford took a total of 65 3-pointers.
During the 2015-2016 season alone, the four-time All-Star took four times as many 3s (256) while connecting on 34.4 percent of them.
In Boston’s 120-99 win on Monday, Horford played 12 minutes and scored seven points while grabbing six rebounds. He also took one, 3-pointer.
And yes, he made it.
“The way our league is going, bigs really need to be able to help space the floor and shoot (3-pointers),” Horford told CSNNE.com recently. “So I just worked at it and worked at it until I felt comfortable shooting it.”
To see him shoot it as well as he has, did not surprise to Atkinson.
“I think he embraces the skill; he enjoys getting better,” Atkinson said. “It’s not just the 3-point shooting, but drive it from the perimeter and make plays; quicker decisions. Now he’s multi-dimensional. I was surprised at how quickly he bought into it. Because you really need to convince Al that’s the best thing. He’s not ‘ok, coach.’ He’s going to really look at it pretty intensely. That was the biggest surprise.
Atkinson added, “Now he’s embracing it which isn’t good for the Nets.”