Ranking the Milwaukee Bucks’ rumored head coaching candidates: No. 2 – Kenny Atkinson
Kenny Atkinson has always been a bit of a rising star in the coaching ranks after he spent four seasons with the Brooklyn Nets. In that time, he compiled a 118-190 win-loss record, but those numbers do little to tell the whole story of just how much he turned their franchise around.
Comparing the before and after of Atkinson’s arrival is night and day. Before Atkinson came on board, the Nets consistently registered a losing record in each of the four seasons before Atkinson was hired. They had not made the playoffs since 2015.
In just a few seasons, the Nets had a winning record in each of the three seasons after Atkinson was hired. Then they made the playoffs in 2019. Then they future-proofed themselves by developing a young roster that included D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, and Spencer Dinwiddie. Their gains were steady, and the future was bright.
Atkinson, at that time, implemented a fast-paced and 3-point-heavy offensive system predicated on ball movement and player movement. Considering the youth on that squad at the time, that system was just perfect for maximizing the collective talents of the Nets’ roster. The Nets were one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league during Atkinson’s tenure, and his system helped the Nets to become one of the most efficient offenses in the league.
Atkinson’s arrival in Brooklyn coincided with a significant turnaround for the franchise. He helped to develop a young roster and foster a positive culture. As a result, the Nets went from being one of the worst teams in the league to a playoff team.
Besides turning around the organization’s culture and overall trajectory, Atkinson was also largely credited for developing their young players. He was the force that galvanized the All-Star emergences of D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, and Jarrett Allen. Part of that was also his ability to create a positive team culture. The Nets were one of the most fun and exciting teams to watch during his tenure.
Atkinson did have some well-documented flaws as the Nets’ head coach. In the past, he’s been criticized for his rotations owing to his frequent changes to his lineups. Atkinson has also been criticized for his in-game decision-making. He has also been known to make questionable calls, such as not calling timeouts or not playing his best players in crunch time.
Another interesting angle to him, though, is that Atkinson is part of the Steve Kerr coaching tree. We’ve seen how well Mike Brown, another former Golden State assistant, has fared as a head coach. It’s not unreasonable to think Kerr, one of the best coaches in the league, would have mentored Atkinson the same way. In the two seasons that Atkinson was assistant coach, the Warriors put together an impressive 97-67 record.
Ultimately, he’s also still a relatively inexperienced head coach. He only had four seasons of experience before he left the Nets in 2020. The front office had just signed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the off-season, and they wanted to hire a win-now coach who had more experience in the playoffs.
Though there’s no questioning his ability to turn a franchise around, there’s really no evidence that he can take a team all the way to a title. The Bucks are not where the Brooklyn Nets were all those years ago. Their winning culture is set, and what they need is a proven coach to take them over the hump.
At the same time, it’s also a fair point that the firing of Mike Budenholzer was not so much meant to give way for an upgrade. It was simply time for something to change, as Bud’s coaching had grown stagnant. It’s for this reason that Atkinson is still second on this list. Hiring him will no doubt bring positive change to the Milwaukee Bucks organization, even if it’s still unclear how far he can take them.