Isaiah Whitehead did not have a good game vs. the Heat. He finished the game with no points, no assists, three turnovers and a plus/minus of -8. Worse, he wasn’t on the floor at the end of the game.
And Whitehead knew it, tweeting...
I Have To Get Better PERIOD— Isaiah Whitehead (@IsaiahW_15) January 26, 2017
A discouraging game, no doubt, but the most important Brooklyn Net on the roster for the next month may be Whitehead.
The calculus that ends with that statement starts with Jeremy Lin re-aggravating his hamstring, which will keep him on the sidelines for an extra 3-to-5 weeks.
So, Whitehead has a chance to really give Sean Marks and company something to think about moving forward, and his career-high 19-point outburst on Monday night was a quality start.
Let’s take a step back, review what Whitehead has already given the Nets.
In July, Jeremy Lin signed as the Nets starting point guard for three years and $36 million. A week earlier, Whitehead was selected with the 42nd pick in the NBA draft, which the Nets acquired that night by sending $3 million and the rights to their 55th pick to Utah. The Lincoln High School legend was viewed inside the organization as a steal. Nets scouts apparently had him pegged as a mid-to-late first-rounder, and we’ve seen flashes of why that they thought that way.
As a mid-second rounder, you’re not owed anything, but the Nets gave Whitehead a deal equal to a late first rounder, four years and $4.5 million, with the first two years guaranteed. Initially there were reports that he’d spent time in the D-League. Then, stuff happened.
Five games into the season, Lin, who almost everyone thought would have a big year under his friend and mentor Kenny Atkinson went down. Not long afterwards, Greivis Vasquez, signed as Lin’s back-up was released and underwent ankle surgery. Suddenly, the No. 3 point guard was starting.
Now 30+ games and 23 starts later, there are fewer doubts about his role in the point guard picture, although some believe this season is essentially an audition for a combo guard role. For the time being, it’s Whitehead and Spencer Dinwiddie sharing duties – with maybe a dab (not that one) of LeVert gets sprinkled in at the 1.
There are no more questions as to when Lin will practice, if he’s practicing, when he’ll return, no tweets, no lack of timetables, none of that.
So, Net fans are all about the future, because well, they have to be. When they think of the future, they’re looking at the potential of the ‘kids,’ as we’ve been referring to them; LeVert, Whitehead, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Chris McCullough, especially the first three since McCullough hasn’t had many actual NBA opportunities (yet) this season while gaining valuable experience in the D League.
Dinwiddie, who’s only 23, can play himself into the picture, especially since he’s the starter for now, but if it’s going to click for Whitehead, the time is pretty much now.
He will have bad games like he did vs. Miami, but that’s the way development (hopefully) works, two steps forward, one step back. Kenny Atkinson thinks he’ll be fine, telling Fred Kerber Tuesday...
“He’s getting more used to the pace of the game and finding when to attack and when to get us in the offense,” said the head coach. “I think he had a stretch there where he was in 100 percent attack mode. And it’s not Lincoln High School, where you can just put your head down and you’re bigger and stronger. Now everybody is bigger and faster. And I think he’s just learning the nuances of the game.”
There is tangible evidence of his progress. In January, despite some bad games, he’s averaging 7.3 points and shooting 37.5 percent from three. His assist totals aren’t what you’d like for a point guard —2.3 per game— but his turnovers are way down from earlier in the season. NBA.com has listed him among their top 10 rookies for five straight weeks. That’s progress.
With a strong second half, the Seton Hall-alum could give the organization a good problem to have: how to distribute point guard minutes in the future. Over the remaining 39 games, Whitehead will have plenty of opportunities to showcase a lot, and potentially elevate his game enough to where he and Lin are sharing backcourt duties next season, maybe even at the end of this one. Lots of possibilities with Lin, Whitehead, LeVert, Hollis-Jefferson. That’s what you want in a rebuild.
As for Lin, we’ll wait and see. With a lingering hammy, it’s hard to say, but all indications are that Lin will be back eventually.
One of our storylines last summer was how much the Nets liked Whitehead, and his performance in the final three months of the season could go a long way in the rebuild process. And as we know, it’s all about trusting the process.