DALLAS — The call for help came from the Nets about 7:30 Sunday night. Isaiah Whitehead, who had played with the Long Island Nets G League team in a win Saturday in Canton, Ohio, was home in Brooklyn preparing to attend a Jay Z concert, but sometimes you have to take one for the team.
Whitehead got to the airport in time to catch a 10 p.m. flight that put him into Houston just after midnight so he could fill a seat on the bench with a Nets squad that was down to 10 healthy bodies for a game against the Rockets Monday night at Toyota Center. The Nets were under an all-out attack from James Harden and the Rockets, but when Whitehead’s number was called, he delivered big-time.
The “Coney Island Cyclone,” as he is known for his spinning drives to the basket, tied his career-high with 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting, though he was only 1 of 5 from three-point range. He played a major role in helping the Nets cut a 21-point deficit to four in the third quarter and helped keep them competitive in a 117-103 loss that could have turned into an embarrassment.
“I’m just staying ready, just taking opportunities and doing well with them,” said Whitehead, who will be with the Nets when they face the Mavs Wednesday night in Dallas. “I’m going to continue to stay ready, and hopefully, I get more chances.”
Despite the hype surrounding him during a two-year career at Seton Hall, Whitehead has shown the maturity to handle trips to the G League. He understands he was a second-round pick in 2016 and has much to learn to carve out a long-term NBA job.
“He had a great game in the G League,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said, referring to Whitehead’s 32 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in a win over Canton. “That’s the model. That’s why we have the G League. He had a great game down there, and that gave him the rhythm. I’m proud of him. He did a good job.”
That was only Whitehead’s second G League game, but he dominated in both. “Definitely it’s a confidence boost, definitely helped today just making shots the other night in Canton,” Whitehead said. “It’s just about building my confidence, staying sharp and just playing. I’d rather be down there playing than up here sitting on the bench.
“Going down there being a dominant player and having the ball in my hands a lot, it just helps me get better at certain areas. It’s definitely just getting reps in and getting some minutes.”
Playing the way he did against the Rockets, who have the best record in the Western Conference, is evidence to Atkinson that the 22-year-old has a future. “I like his presence; I like how he competed,” said Atkinson, who has emphasized the need for Whitehead to cut down turnovers. “He’s got the physical tools with his size. He’s strong. So, he’s got an NBA body.
“There’s just things to fine-tune, and he’s going to fine-tune it this year. You’re going to see him back and forth, which is great.”