On Tuesday night, we got a sneak preview of how minutes will be hard to come by for some Brooklyn Nets. And that was without Caris LeVert (ankle) and Allen Crabbe (foot) who are sidelined “day-to-day” with injuries.
A few players who contributed mightily last season are already — and will be — fighting for precious time on the court. The Nets have simply gotten deeper, particularly at the guard and wing spots.
The de facto poster child for this struggle is Isaiah Whitehead, the hometown kid who grew up in Coney Island and averaged 7.4 points, 2.6 assists, 2.5 rebounds, and 0.5 blocks (one of the best among NBA guards as a rookie) last season. Despite playing in 73 games and making 26 starts last season, his playing time may be in jeopardy.
It was around this time last year that Atkinson mentioned that Whitehead, along with now former Net Chris McCullough, were all but destined to spend time in the D-League with the Long Island Nets. But luck and injuries intervened. Greivis Vasquez played three games before he was bought out and escorted to the operating table. Jeremy Lin went down too with a recurring hamstring. Whitehead was ordered into the breach, a 21-year-old rookie and second rounder to boot. He learned on the job.
Things are different now. Kenny Atkinson didn’t mince words when talking about the competition after a summer in which the Nets acquired D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll.
“I think right now he’s competing and we’re going to let it play out and see how it goes,” said Atkinson candidly at Wednesday’s practice. “No doubt, there’s just more competition for those wing positions. With Caris and Allen out right now, the minutes are there, but when they’re back, it’s like, ‘do the math.’ We’re going to have to figure it out. We can’t play everybody, there’s just not enough minutes.”
Whitehead didn’t help himself on Tuesday’s preseason opener at Madison Square Garden either. The 22-year-old logged 17 minutes and shot 0-for-6. He was one of few Nets who struggled to find his offense. On the other hand, ever the combative Brookynite, the Lincoln Railsplitter managed to bring it defensively. Still, it was one game and it came on the heels of an impressive showing in training camp, which caught the eye of Atkinson.
“He had a few turnovers (against the Knicks), but that being said, coming out of Navy and training camp, I thought he had a great camp,” said Atkinson, gesturing for emphasis. “I’m not going to take that one game – and I thought last night he did a good job defending. Really good in the pick-and-roll defense. I’m an Isaiah Whitehead fan, I think he’s a really good player, but yeah, he’s fighting for minutes like a lot of these wings are.”
Atkinson has said he thinks Whitehead could play a little small forward and suggested that Marcus Smart might be a good model ... athletic, physically strong with an ability to maneuver into the lane and shot from along the arc.
He’ll no doubt get minutes in Brooklyn on Thursday. Neither Crabbe nor LeVert practiced Tuesday and both are already out vs. the Heat. It may be a while before Crabbe is back. LeVert was at least seen shooting around, with D’Angelo Russell.
So Whitehead will likely get some additional chances. If not, what’s next? Will Whitehead have to develop in the G League? Or will he make it increasingly difficult for Atkinson and the crew to keep him on the bench?
Whitehead weighed in on Wednesday about the challenge.
"Going into training camp and going into the season, everyone just fights for minutes. I’m up for the challenge. I’m a competitor. Whatever I’ve got to do to get on the court, I’m going to try it,” he said.
So, we’ll find out soon how he’s doing. Real soon.
- Isaiah Whitehead knows he’s in a dogfight for playing time - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Still a Pirate, Whitehead living life in Brooklyn - Elizabeth Swinton - The Setonian