Brooklyn Nets: Caris Levert and Isaiah Whitehead quickly developing
In the summer prior to the 2016-2017 NBA season, the Brooklyn Nets were doing everything they could to put together a young roster filled with untapped talent. There were two players that were to be the centerpiece of that alongside Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez: Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe. The Nets offered Johnson a $50 million contract and were willing to shell out $75 million to Allen Crabbe. Much to the Nets surprise, the Miami Heat matched the offer for Tyler Johnson, and the Portland Trail Blazers did the same for Crabbe. The Nets had just signed Jeremy Lin to a three-year contract, but he has only played in twelve games this year. So, the front office was hoping their starting lineup for the season would be Lin, Crabbe, Johnson, Brook Lopez, and Rondae-Hollis-Jefferson. 50 games into the season, however, that is not the case. Although their initial plan didn’t work out, plan B hasn’t been such a disaster, at least in the development department.
Caris LeVert has developed into a quality defender in the NBA. Photo by: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
42 losses aside, the Nets have been able to develop some young players well ahead of schedule. Isaiah Whitehead and Caris LeVert. LeVert’s offense has not been anything special, but it his ability to defend that has made him a valuable commodity. Kenny Atkinson noted LeVert’s defensive ability, saying “I think Caris can guard one through three, I think he’s fast enough to guard the one, has the size to guard the two position “With starting threes, it’s a little difficult, you know, the LeBron Jameses of the world. But I think that’s the future for him. You’re putting him on their hot player or their best players. As he gets stronger, I think that will be his role.” For a first-year rookie to immediately become a defensive stud is something that the Nets must love. As for his offense, it needs work. As he develops his ball-handling and shooting skills, LeVert could become a much better all-around player than people initially thought.
Kenny Atkinson has praised Isaiah Whitehead for his rapid development this season. Photo by: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah Whitehead has also been a pleasant surprise for the Nets this season. With the injury to Jeremy Lin, Whitehead has become the Nets starting point guard, and he has blossomed as a product of that. One of the things that make Whitehead special is his toughness. “ He’s Coney Island tough,” said head coach Kenny Atkinson following a game against the Washington Wizards on December 30th “he’s a physically imposing guy. Wall tried backing him down and he just put his chest out and John turned it over. The special feeling for his demeanor excites you. When we are talking about development, and down the road, this kid has a chance.” Whitehead has continued to improve throughout the season, increasing his points per game in every month so far this season. In November, when he first started getting more than 20 minutes of playing time per game, he averaged 6.3 points per game. In December he averaged eight, and in January he averaged 8.4. Atkinson heaped more praise on Whitehead saying, “I’m thrilled with his progress, where that first week you were like, ‘Man this is going to be tough, is he going to be ready?’ ” Atkinson said. “Now it’s like, ‘Let’s throw him out there,’ and we’re comfortable with that.” The numbers show that development, and that’s nothing short of a big step for Whitehead as he continues to develop into a quality guard.
Although the Nets have lost 42 games and will continue to lose throughout the rest of the year, the development of Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead has been a bright spot in a season where the Nets hold the worst record in the NBA by seven games. If and when Jeremy Lin returns from injury, it will be interesting to see how Atkinson utilizes Whitehead if he continues to play well. As for LeVert, the addition of Jeremy Lin could help his offensive game and his ability to develop his jump shot, as Lin has the ability to collapse defenders into the paint in order to clear up space for shooters. There isn’t much to be excited about when it comes to the Nets this season, but nonetheless watching these young players develop into solid contributors has been a welcome sight.