Prior to the season, the Nets let it be known that both Chris McCullough and Isaiah Whitehead would be playing for the Long Island Nets sometime this season. It wasn’t meant as a demotion for either, but rather a signal that the Nets are serious about developing the young guys through their newly affiliated D-League team.
However, the beauty of sport is that guys can prove their true colors if given the opportunity.
For rookie Isaiah Whitehead, the chance came early. Backup point guard Greivis Vasquez got hurt during the third game of the season and was ultimately waived after playing 39 minutes. So Whitehead had to step up as Jeremy Lin’s backup. What few know is that the point is relatively new to Whitehead. He notes that other than last season at Seton Hall, the 6'5" guard had only played the 2.
He had some growing pains in his first dose of real action with more turnovers than assists. He backed Lin up for less than two games before Lin himself got hurt against the Pistons. Whitehead, 21, with only four games under his belt, would become the starting point guard for the his hometown’s professional basketball team.
He finished a tough game against the Detroit Pistons for Jeremy Lin. The numbers weren’t anything fancy with five points, four assists, four rebounds – and five turnovers.
But he got the job done and helped the Nets close out the game.
As the games moved on, you could tell Whitehead was getting more and more comfortable with his role. For the Nets, he was all they had. No other point guards were available. And at the same time -- it was a perfect opportunity to develop the young point guard. Serendipity.
Then, his true colors came out. The tough, gritty and persistent Brooklyn kid got knocked down… and quickly got up.
In the first quarter in a game against Minnesota, the 245-pound, 6’11" Gorgui Dieng stepped on his head – YES STEPPED ON HIS HEAD! –forcing him to leave the game for the concussion protocol.
He did return and facilitated the Brooklyn offense efficiently. He was a plus-12 on the night with six points, seven assists, an equal number of rebounds and most importantly, only two turnovers. And once again, as he had at Seton Hall, he dominated Kevin Dunn, the fourth pick in the Draft who didn't score and handed out only two assists. For the Brooklyn Nets, who came away with an impressive victory, it epitomized what Brooklyn grit is all about. This is his city and he loves this team.
That's just the way I grew up," Whitehead said. "That's where I'm from and what we do."
"That’s the toughness we need and the definition of Brooklyn grit," Lopez said about Whitehead’s incident. "That’s homegrown, and we need that from every player of ours."
Kenny Atkinson said, "It’s his Coney Island toughness. We’re getting to feel comfortable with him out there."
He’s become a gel guy and somebody well respected inside the locker room, especially for a rookie. Unfortunately the former Pirate would not return to where he starred in the Big East title game at Madison Square Garden the next night. The Nets deemed him out with concussion symptoms, stating that he wouldn’t be back until he was completely cleared.
Atkinson was right and things became tough without Whitehead. Guys were playing out of position and he wasn’t there to facilitate the offense. Still, the Nets made it work and went 1-1 on the road trip; most recently picking up a solid 18-point win over Phoenix.
However before Saturday’s game, Brian Lewis reported some positive news for the Nets.
Isaiah Whitehead didn’t travel because of concussion protocols, but a source said he’ll join the #Nets on Sunday.— Brian Lewis (@NYPost_Lewis) November 13, 2016
Nothing is official just yet on his return. Whitehead is listed right now as "probable." He was cleared to fly Sunday, something he wasn't permitted to do under the concussion protocol. So will he be stepping on the floor Monday against Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers, maybe as the starter? We won't know until near game time.
If he does start, it's something to get used to.He’s the starting point guard for right now, and the Nets should continue to compete the way they’ve been with him in the lineup. (He will have help, with Randy Foye and now Yogi Ferrell available.)
When Jeremy Lin comes back, maybe Whitehead will have proved himself enough to where the Nets are comfortable with him being the primary backup to Lin. Vasquez was waived, so perhaps the Nets will develop Whitehead in the NBA with the pros instead of becoming a full-timer for the Long Island Nets.