In just over one NBA season, Isaiah Whitehead has been through a lot.
The Brooklyn Net, and Brooklyn native, was a second-round pick in last year’s NBA draft, traded to the Nets on Draft Night, was met with a lot of hometown love ... and a level of expectations not normal for such a late draft choice.
Whitehead’s been high-profile in New York City, Brooklyn especially, long before the NBA.
Last year, Whitehead was expected to spend some time with the Long Island Nets in the then D League, but didn’t. Injuries to Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez changed that. He started 26 games for better or worse. He did his job.
This season, Lin is out with a torn patellar tendon, but D’Angelo Russell is now also injured. Now playing behind Spencer Dinwiddie, Whitehead, again, has a new opportunity.
Now, a year wiser, and better, he’s looking to take full advantage.
“Just like I said before; It’s a great opportunity to get better, to play and to help the team win,” he said after Monday’s practice. “I mean; you’ve just got to stay ready like I’ve been saying the whole year. Even when I was in the G League, it’s just about staying ready. Opportunity could come at any time.”
Whitehead has been a healthy scratch seven of the Nets’ 13 games so far this season, only seeing playing time in only contests, the last two of which were the most attention grabbing.
Against the Denver Nuggets on November 7, Whitehead finished with 5 points, 4 assists, 4 steals and 2 rebounds in 15 minutes of play.
Two games later in the Nets’ most recent game against the Jazz, Whitehead helped guide a late Net rally, making the most of his 13 minutes of play by finishing with 8 points on 3-of-6 shooting, 2 rebounds and a couple of free throw makes.
“I think confidence is big,” Whitehead said. “Playing hard and knowing I belong. Knowing that my teammates trust me with the ball. Just trying to play my game and hopefully the best happens.”
Kenny Atkinson says that, with Russell and Lin out, Whitehead will definitely be a factor, and the team will have to find minutes with him in a backcourt that will include Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert running the point at times. Whitehead will seemingly be used primarily off the ball.
“We have to figure out between him and Sean (Kilpatrick),” Atkinson said of using Whitehead. “Him and Sean are going to have to lend a helping hand. Caris is going to have to share some ball-handling duties. I think you’ll see Whitehead out there sometimes too.”
Whitehead says that he’s discussed how he’ll fit in with Dinwiddie running the show. The two guards, friends, have had talks about working together on the floor and Whitehead fitting into what Dinwiddie’s been doing in a breakout year.
“He’s had a tremendous season so far,” Whitehead said of Dinwiddie. “Whatever he’s doing, I want to do too. I’m just going to pick his brain as much as possible – just to have comfort with people bringing the ball up and people going through the offense. I feel like I could fulfill that role. I’m just going to follow Spencer’s lead and we’ve been talking already about how he controls the offense and things like that. I’m just looking to get better.”
Just doing his job.