The Nets pulled out a nice victory against a talented Detroit team Wednesday in Brooklyn. The fans were happy and for right now, the record is acceptable (2-3). Currently in the Nets world, it ain’t that bad here.
That phrase is one of many things that remind us of the horror of last season. But those are only words. Wednesday late in the first half, Jeremy Lin left the game with a strained hamstring. He didn’t return. Suddenly, one of the Nets’ biggest problem was exposed: point guard depth.
That’s something that became a concern during last year’s horror, too. The Nets weren’t a very good team and they had Jarrett Jack starting at the point. Jack was always a solid ballplayer, but not starting caliber. Regardless, he played well despite worries about this before the season started.
And then he got hurt. Out for the year.
And then point guard depth was exposed. Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan were the backups, and neither got the job done. Neither find themselves in the NBA this season.
The Nets current situation is a little different. They DO have players who can play backup. Lin’s injury isn’t necessarily serious, but hamstring injuries do linger. And this is a reminder – five games in – that anything can happen in the NBA. You just never know.
When they tendered the offer sheet to Tyler Johnson, they figured he would be a solid backup 1 and a sixth man. You know the story: Heat matched, Nets lost Johnson. So, Marks went out and picked up a solid citizen in Greivis Vasquez to back up Jeremy Lin at the one.
Although his attitude fits the culture, Vasquez suffered with bone spurs in his ankle last season on November 27. In announcing the procedure, the Bucks suggested Vasquez could be back in three or four months. When the four months were up, the Bucks season was over. He wanted to play in the Olympics, but backed out citing the need to rehab.
Now, 11 months and only five games into the season and he’s hurting with the same injury. His performance in the preseason and first four games were unconvincing. This did not come as a surprise.
Prior to the fifth game of the season, Kenny Atkinson had no details on Vasquez other than, “He’s working to get back.”
The Nets other two combo guards are also hurt. Randy Foye is day-to-day, but he isn’t used to the full task of backup point guard duties. He may get the job done for the time being, but the offense will take a step down when Lin is subbed out. He, too, has hamstring problem.
Caris LeVert is another combo guard who they plan on grooming as a backup point guard. He’s been positive about his return of late saying last week that he’s “probably a couple of weeks” away. Realistically they will not rush him back. He may even start in the D-League. He’s undergone three surgeries on his foot. It will take time.
That leaves it up to Isaiah Whitehead. You rewind back to Wednesday night when the Nets were cruising in the first half behind a big performance by Lopez orchestrated by Jeremy Lin’s solid point guard play. When Lin went down, Whitehead was called upon.
Prior to the game, Kenny Atkinson told reporters it’s a “Great opportunity for Isaiah Whitehead to step up.” Whitehead has shown signs, but he’s still fresh. He’s still adjusting to the speed of the NBA, much like every other rookie in the league. He played a decent game with five points, four assists and four rebounds in 20 minutes. But the growing pains continue with the constant turnovers. Wednesday he had five turnovers. When Vasquez got injured Monday, he also had five.
All in all, the Nets ended up with the victory and Whitehead kept things afloat for the time being. However, he has some growing pains to get out.
“Isaiah Whitehead, what can I say?” Atkinson said after the game. “That’s the beauty of sport, that’s the beauty of the NBA — that you get another chance to do it and you get another opportunity. I’m really proud of how he stepped up in front of his home crowd. Good stuff.”
Atkinson knows that this is an issue, but he continues to instill confidence in his young guys. The players know they have to step up to help the issue. One is Sean Kilpatrick, who’s stepped up nicely in different ways thus far. We saw him fill the one role Monday and Wednesday.
“I noticed as soon as Jeremy went out,” Kilpatrick said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to have to play the point’ because that was something I did throughout Summer League and Coach did a great job during the summer, making sure that I played the point because you never know when that time is going to come.”
He stepped up when called upon, and it all makes sense with developing the young guys and letting them learn firsthand. But it’s early in the season and these are winnable games, no matter what the big picture approach is. The Nets have proven to be a competent ball club. So yeah, believe it or not, they can compete on any given night.
This will not continue if they don’t figure out the point guard situation. Jeremy Lin is clearly not an issue when healthy, but Wednesday reminded us that stuff happens and you always have to be ready when that type of stuff does happen.
This is not 2015-2016 where fate relied on the shoulders of Shane Larkin or Donald Sloan, neither of whom are even in the league this season. But the issue at hand is very similar.
It’s an 82-game season and this is an issue being addressed after only five games.