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Atkinson provides optimism on rookies LeVert, Whitehead

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2016 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

Hours before the 2016 NBA Draft, the Brooklyn Nets only had the 55th overall pick. No first rounder. Boston had that. They had to swap second rounders with the Clippers.

After the draft concluded, the Nets were a Thaddeus Young short, but walked away with Michigan guard Caris LeVert at No. 20, and Brooklyn-born Seton Hall product Isaiah Whitehead at No. 42, seen as a win by many a Net fans.

While LeVert continues to fight his way back from a severe foot injury at Michigan, Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson spoke glowingly of the two handpicked Nets after day two of training camp.

“I think both of them fit the style of play we want to play,” Atkinson told the media. “They both come from good programs, they’re both smart players, they’re skilled players, two competitive guys. They checked all the boxes for us.”

LeVert is unique. Because of his injuries, he wasn’t viewed as the top-20 selection. However, the feeling is that his game warrants the risky choice, and the Nets believe LeVert will become a key contributor upon his return from injury.

“Caris to me is that multidimensional wing that could shoot. Perimeter shooting is huge in this league, I think we all know it, we’ve been around it, and he’s going to add that,” Atkinson said of the 6-foot-7 guard. “I was impressed with him at Michigan that he could play pick-and-roll, he could pass the ball, obviously he’s got length to defend, and he’s a competitive guy.”

As for Whitehead, Atkinson and the organization are very high on him. They see the 2016 AP All-American honorable mention as a steal. And they put their money down on him to prove it. They paid $3 million to move up in the draft and gave him first round money, a four-year, $4.5 million contract.

The question about Whitehead, similar to that about LeVert, is whether or not he can play point guard at this level. Both played point in college ... as well as shooting guard.

Atkinson says he believes Whitehead can provide minutes for the Nets at the point because of his versatile skill set, which is the main reason why the Nets drafted him to begin with.

“I don’t even want to get caught up on whether or not he’s a point guard,” Atkinson said. “He’s a basketball player, and to me he’s a point guard. He passes well, he sees the court, he could defend the position, he could shoot the ball, and his size at that age. He’s not a talker, he’s just a quiet competitor, and I enjoy being around him.”

“We have multiple guys who can play point guard,” coach Atkinson continued. “Randy Foye has played point guard in this league, not 40 minutes per game but he’s very capable.

“My point with Isaiah is that Isaiah is going to push guys for that position no matter who’s there, I think that’s the guy he is. I can see he has an urgency about it. I think the intelligence is there and the competitiveness is there.”

LeVert, who was reportedly 11th on the Nets internal mock draft, had three fractures and three foot surgeries in three years as a Michigan Wolverine. The Nets are certainly banking on his potential, and that Nets foot and ankle specialist Dr. Martin O’Malley has helped reconstruct LeVert’s ankle.

Atkinson believes the risk willl all be worth it once LeVert is finally healthy and back on the floor.

“We did our work, we did our background, we had all the information, I think we made an educated decision, but honestly it’s tough,” Atkinson said. “Thaddeus is a very good player and a starter in this league. It’s tough but I think we all decided where we are with our program and it was worth the risk, and obviously we’re all on the same page with that.”

Whitehead also spoke about representing his hometown, which has many Brooklynites and New Yorkers ecstatic.

“It’s been great,” the Lincoln high school legend said. “Just to be home, in front of the hometown team, I’m blessed with the teammates that I have. They’re real welcoming, it makes everything much easier.”

Whitehead added that being at home hasn’t and shouldn’t overwhelm him like it has with other athletes. The First-Team All-Big East player essentially believes that he’s built for the challenge ahead, even as a rookie.

“It really depends on what type of person you are,” he said. “If you could handle it, you could handle it, if you can’t, you can’t. My family and friends just know that when I’m here, it’s basketball. Job first, friends second. That’s definitely understood with my family and friends and all that.”