The Nets are losers of six straight games, 17 of their past 18 and have far and away the worst record in the NBA at 9-39. But there is a kernel of hope for the future reflected in the recent play of rookies Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead and second-year forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Lately, they have developed into a unit coach Kenny Atkinson likes to bring off the bench to make a defensive impact and provide an offensive change of pace. Whitehead might be pushing to replace Spencer Dinwiddie as the starting point guard when the Nets face the Knicks on Wednesday night at Barclays Center.
“I’m thrilled with the way he’s attacking the basket,” Atkinson said following a loss Monday in Miami. “Isaiah has a good grasp on what we want to do. I like his presence on the floor. I think he can be a leader. I see him out there talking to the guys.”
Atkinson has made extensive use of Hollis-Jefferson, who led the Nets with 11 rebounds against the Heat, as the backup power forward, and LeVert often is the first substitute off the bench.
Asked if he envisions expanded roles for the three, Atkinson said, “I think you see we’re trying to bring them along. We don’t want to throw too much at them, but if I think it’s going to help the team, we’re not totally against it.”
Hollis-Jefferson was a first-round pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, and the Nets traded for LeVert in the first round last summer and used their second-round pick on Whitehead. They have worked at developing a bond that has allowed them to succeed as a unit.
“You can definitely make that case on us three,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “It’s good chemistry, good basketball. I think it’s pretty much how we call each other ‘brothers.’ It just flows well on the court.
“Us spending that time off the court, getting to know each other . . . if one of us messes up, we’re not getting down on each other. ‘It’s cool brother. Just keep playing.’ Then, you’ll see Caris make a big play or Isaiah make a big play, and we’re back on our saddle.”
Hollis-Jefferson, who grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania, played against Whitehead, a Brooklyn native, in high school and AAU basketball, and he faced LeVert in college.
“We spend time going to dinner, just hanging out, getting to know each other beyond basketball,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “I’ve known Isaiah since I was 13. I didn’t know Caris, but he lives two floors down from me. He sleeps on my couch all the time. It’s a big relationship for us, and we’re just going to cherish those moments that we’re together.”
Nets fans only can hope the relationship lasts a long time as they lead the next generation of the franchise.