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Whitehead learning through Atkinson’s ‘trial by fire’

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Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

During the preseason, head coach Kenny Atkinson said that plenty of Nets will learn through good ol’ ‘trial by fire,’ during the experimental 2016-17 campaign.

Although, none of us expected Isaiah Whitehead, who was appropriately announced as ‘from Brooklyn’ last night, would be put into the fire pit so soon.

Prior to Friday’s game, it appeared as if Sean Kilpatrick might end up starting at the point, with Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez out and Randy Foye being eased back into the rotation.

Instead, with Kilpatrick really thriving in his sixth man (of the year?) role, averaging 17.0 points in 26.2 minutes per game, Atkinson tabbed Whitehead, the 2016 second round pick, to make his first NBA start in only his sixth career game.

With fellow New York City high school legend Kemba Walker on the opposing Charlotte Hornets squad, Whitehead recorded eight points and three assists in 23 minutes, providing glimpses of why fans and locals are so excited about the Coney Island native.

“I think I’m getting much more comfortable, it’s just a matter of time,” Whitehead told reporters after the game, which was played about 20 minutes away by subway from Abraham Lincoln High School where he spent his prep years. “Just getting better and better every time I get on the court. (It’s) just (about) reducing turnovers, just really getting everybody involved – it’s a tough process but I think I’ll get there.”

Walker, for what it’s worth, tallied a season-high 30 points, wreaking havoc on the shorthanded Nets back court. The loss dropped the black-and-white to 2-4.

After playing a total of 12 minutes in the first three games of the season, including an ‘inspiring’ defensive showing to close out the first game of the season at Boston, Whitehead logged 21 and 20 against Chicago and Detroit, respectively, earlier this week. While hosting the Midwest visitors, the former McDonald’s All-American averaged 5.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 5.0 turnovers while primarily running the point.

Ahead of combat with Kemba and crew, Whitehead dubbed being thrown into the fire as “really valuable” at Friday morning’s shootaround.

“It helped me out a lot, I think it was different from my first game at the Barclays,” Whitehead said of his game vs. Detroit. “I just watched a lot of film and I just have to get better at things that I didn’t do well in Chicago.”

Whitehead, who has discussed his dynamic with mentor Lin in recent weeks, also shared some advice the Harvard grad passed along to last year’s Most Outstanding Performer in the Big East Tournament, where he led Seton Hall to the tourney crown.

“Just play under control and don‘t think too much," Whitehead said. “Jeremy (Lin) always tells me, 'if you go out there and think the game, it makes it much harder.’ So it’s really about just going out there, competing as hard as possible, as many minutes you’re in, just try to give it your all. Unfortunately, Jeremy went down, so it’s kind of a positive, negative. First, I want to see him on the floor, but at the same time it’s just time for me to step up.”

Moving forward, it appears Whitehead will continue to start at point and continue to learn on the fly, which could bode very well for a potential-packed prospect … if not for the team record.

Next-up, the Nets will take on the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday at Barclays, where he’ll get a dose of fellow rookie and fifth overall pick Kris Dunn of Providence, who battled with Whitehead throughout their college years in the Big East.

In their final head-to-head contest, back on February 25, Whitehead played one of his best games at Seton Hall. Against Dunn, Whitehead poured in a game-best 25 points, dished out nine assists, grabbed six rebounds, and blocked four shots in a 70-52 victory.

Dunn? Eight points on 4-of-12 shooting, with zero assists and three turnovers in 29 minutes.

Net fans will take more of the same, with a side of fewer contested three-point attempts from the team.