The Nets’ 109-101 victory over the Pistons last night in Brooklyn was another impressive one for the home team, who struggled in the second half but were able to hold onto a 71-55 halftime lead.
Brook Lopez (34 points, 11 rebounds) and Sean Kilpatrick (24 points, 10 rebounds) led the way for the Nets, who shot nearly 54 percent from the field (and 48 percent from three).
But, for the 2-3 Nets, the jubilation from the win was short-lived. Jeremy Lin suffered a strained hamstring at the end of the first half and will be out at least two weeks. He sat out the second half and gave way to Kilpatrick and rookie Isaiah Whitehead. The last thing the Nets need is a long-term injury to Lin, who has been great through five games in Brooklyn.
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With Lin sidelined and Greivis Vasquez nursing an injured ankle, Kilpatrick and Whitehead will have to assume a lot of responsibility, much like they did on Wednesday. Newark native, and offseason signee, Randy Foye will also be thrown into the fray on Friday as he returns from a hamstring injury of his own.
The piecemeal approach, with Kilpatrick probably stepping into Lin’s starting role, will have to make do for the Nets, who have played better-than-expected basketball so far through five games. Kilpatrick, the former D-League All-Star, has been one of the Nets’ biggest surprises since joining the organization at the end of last season, but increased minutes could negatively affect his efficiency, especially from three-point range.
It’ll be interesting to see how Whitehead, the Brooklyn native, does with more time on the ball. The Seton Hall product has already proven to be a defensive pest — he helped spur the comeback effort in the season opener against Boston — and has a nice little pull-up jumper, but his ball-handing has left a lot to be desired.
Whitehead has committed 12 turnovers in his 53 minutes of play, with back-to-back five-turnover showings against the Bulls and Pistons. He is a rookie, though, who is playing his first professional games in his hometown in front of friends and family. I’m willing to give him a pass for some early-season jitters.
It’s clear where Whitehead gets himself into trouble, and that is when he tries to do too much. When he has slowed the game down and allowed the Nets’ motion offense to develop, he has been able to make some nice passes to find open teammates. When he rushes, though, defenders converge on him and he either makes a risky pass or loses control of the ball.
The Nets are really high on their second round pick still, and with reason. His aggressiveness when driving to the basket, which hasn’t resulted in too many points just yet, but is a sign that he’s simply not afraid of anyone who might be switched onto him. What has impressed me the most is his jump shot. Whitehead was a big — if inefficient — scorer in both high school and college, and a big reason was his shot.
When defenders sags off of him, especially in transition, he has the confidence to pull up and he’s been fairly accurate. The overall numbers — slashline of .353/.333/.500 — aren’t pretty and are from a very small sample, but Whitehead shouldn’t be assessed by the stats he posts for awhile. Until Lin comes back, the Nets just need him to control the offensive flow and find Brooklyn’s shooters.
On the other side of the ball, he has been very impressive. His promise defensively is much higher, in my opinion, than it is offensively because of that aggression, which works well when he gets right in guys’ faces to bother them with the ball. Again, he doesn’t force many steals but the intensity he brings to the table gets opposing offenses out of rhythm.
As for Foye, what the 33-year-old brings to the table at this point in his career is pretty well-known. He brings another perimeter threat to the Nets and can bring the ball up as a point guard or play off the ball as a shooting guard. The 2015-16 season, in which he spent time with both Denver and Oklahoma City, was a down one statistically but his roles with the Nuggets and Thunder were fairly undefined, so a solid bench role with Brooklyn should improve his production a bit.
He’s also a nice addition to Kenny Atkinson’s motion offense. The lateral speed isn’t the same as it used to be for Foye but he can get out to contest opposing shooters and is always looking for his own shot, which is a the right mindset in this offense.
Don’t get me wrong; the Lin injury really hurts the Nets and might reverse some of the forward momentum they’ve built with a strong start. But, the point of this season is to evaluate the talent the Nets do have, and there’s no better way to see what Kilpatrick and Whitehead (even Foye, who is a midseason trade candidate if he plays well) are made of than throwing them right into the fire.