This time last year, Sean Kilpatrick was still exploring his D-League options. He had just been cut by the Pelicans after spending the preseason with them. Up to that point, he had only played 4 games in the NBA. It’s fair to say things were not looking too hot for the young Yonkers native.
Even after he started to make a name for himself with the Nets, there were still a lot of concerns over his game. For one thing, his shooting was fairly inconsistent. If his first couple of shots didn’t go in, the opposing teams usually didn’t have much to worry about. His rebounding (2.2 per game) and playmaking (1.1 assists) weren’t anything to write home about, either. Add in the underwhelming defensive stats, and you get a one-dimensional player.
Despite his many woes, Kilpatrick did enough to pique Sean Marks’ curiosity. In 23 games with the Nets last season, he averaged 13.8 points in 23.2 minutes per game. Indeed, he was one of the rare bright spots during a disappointing period for the Nets fans.
This season, it seems like Kilpatrick has improved in almost every facet of his game. In his seven games off the bench, he’s averaged 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists. He’s shooting 45.7% from the field and a respectable 38.7% from beyond the arc. As a matter of fact, he’s currently leading the entire NBA in bench scoring. It’s a small size sample, but he’s looking like a strong candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
So, what seems to be the reason behind this uptick in numbers? Like most good things about the new-look Nets, some of it can be attributed to Atkinson’s motion offense. With everyone on the court setting off-ball screens and passing to the open man, Kilpatrick hasn’t had to work too hard to get good looks at the basket. Compared to the last season’s slow-moving, Lopez-centric offense, the improvements are immediately visible.
Of course, some of it is also about Kilpatrick maturing into a more efficient player. This season, over 30% of his points have been three-pointers, with another 37% coming from inside the paint. Even more impressively, his midrange game has accounted for a mere 4.9% of his points. For comparison’s sake, this is a far cry from last’s season 12.2%. He’s looked more comfortable getting to the rim, as evidenced by his 4.8 free throw attempts per game. These numbers only confirm the eye test – Kilpatrick has become a more complete scorer. He will still occasionally hold the ball for too long, but some of it seems to be by design. Atkinson obviously trusts him to make an impact as a ball handler. He’s even played some minutes at the point guard position, though mostly by necessity.
He’s also been more consistent off the dribble, blowing by opposing defenders on a regular basis. If you’ve been reading up on the Nets lately, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s worked on his body over the summer, shedding his weight and reducing his body mass index from 13.5 to 8.5. As a result, his athleticism has taken a leap forward, which was evident from the beginning of the season. With his physical tools and newfound hustle, he’s been a lot more active on the boards and in transition. Overall, Kilpatrick seems to understand his limitations and the importance of working on them.
As individual stats will tell you, Kilpatrick has been one of Brooklyn’s most important players. He’s third on the Nets in true shooting percentage (57.6%), third in usage rage (24.3) and fifth in PER (16.30). He’s also the team’s second best scorer, just behind Brook Lopez. He hasn’t exactly become a plus defender, but he’s certainly been more reliable than Bojan Bogdanovic in that regard. Indeed, Kilpatrick’s development adds another question mark over Bogdanovic’s future with the Nets.
Strangely enough, Kilpatrick struggled to make an impact in his first career start against the Knicks last night. In the absence of Lin and Whitehead, Kilpatrick stepped in as the team’s main point guard. He finished the game with 7 points (2-9 from the field), 5 assists and 4 turnovers. He hasn’t often been asked to focus on creating for others, so these early hiccups are perhaps to be expected. Once the injured players return to the fray, expect to see Kilpatrick go back to what he does best.
Prior to the start of the season, Kilpatrick stated he wants to become a more all-around player. So far, he seems to be coming good on that promise. One look at the team’s projected depth chart at the guard positions will tell you enough about how hard he’s had to work to make the most of his current situation. If everybody on the Nets displayed this kind of tenacity, the rebuilding process would be over far quicker.