TBG Player Previews 2016-2017: Isaiah Whitehead

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Isaiah Whitehead, guard

2015-2016: 32.3 MPG, 18.2 PPG, 5.1 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.4 BPG, .379 FG%, .365 3P%, .760 FT%, 34 G

Who is Isaiah Whitehead?

After two years at Seton Hall, Isaiah Whitehead shocked the scouting world when he decided to declare for the NBA Draft, in which the Nets selected him with the 42nd pick. Whitehead was one of the more individually talented stars from the 2016 Draft Class — scoring 18 points and dishing 5 assists per contest — despite their early exit from the NCAA Tournament in March. While talented, Whitehead brings something to the Nets never seen before: a Brooklyn-born player. Of course, this makes him one of the more marketable athletes the franchise has had in years, but he also has the potential help out right now. He’s raw, undoubtedly, but Whitehead has shown he can make the big, game-winning plays, the right passes, and has the basketball IQ necessary to run the point.

With his scoring prowess and hometown identity, it was an easy choice for the Nets to take a chance on Whitehead late in the draft.

2015-2016 Recap:

Of course, unless you’ve been living under a rock this summer, you likely know what Whitehead’s historic 2015-2016 season entailed, as he led Seton Hall University to their first Big East title since 1993 and past the eventual National Champions at Villanova. Thanks to Whitehead’s nearly elite collegiate line — 18/5/3/1/1 — Seton Hall secured their first NCAA bid in ten years as a #6 seed. Although they would fall to #11 Gonzaga in the first round, a game in which Whitehead shot just 4-24, there was no erasing his penchant for the big-time play.

While he functioned as the Pirates’ point guard last year as a sophomore, he featured heavily as a shooting guard during his freshman year — a position that head coach Kenny Atkinson sees potential in for Whitehead. His versatility as both a passer and a shooter will allow plenty of opportunities to get Whitehead on the court.

In the past, Whitehead has shown Stephen Curry-esque range, now he just needs to bring it to the big leagues.

What does he bring to the table for the Nets?

Whitehead brings versatility that can be developed at either guard role, as he’s a player that can both drive to the rim and shoot from 40 feet out. While he had trouble with his turnovers last season, he’s learned to adapt to the point guard role and dish the ball, ranking 53rd in Division I for assists per game.  In the shooting department, against Butler University last February, Whitehead canned 7 three-pointers, a microwave-esque performance from downtown that the Nets would’ve begged for in 2015-2016.

For the Pirates, Whitehead was known for his ability to create steals out of thin air — most often chasing down a player, swiping the ball, and then putting away at the other end — all while invigorating the supporting fans. As a lengthy defender, Atkinson may find his bullish focus on that end as a nice switch-up from the more finessed Greivis Vasquez.

However, with heavy experience ahead of him at point guard, he’ll have to earn his playing time by proving his reliability, shooting, and passing prowess that made him a star at Seton Hall.

The Whitehead Highlight Reel Theater:

With 18 seconds left and Seton Hall down 67-65, Whitehead put the game in his hands, drove to the basket, and got the bank shot to go down — even drawing a clinching free throw in the process. On that night, Seton Hall would beat the eventual National Champions by a final score of 69-67, thanks mostly to Whitehead’s 26 point-effort. The above play made Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard fall to the ground and the victory ensured that Whitehead returned on his promise to put Seton Hall basketball back on the map and into the NCAA Tournament.

Bottom Line:

Whitehead is undeniably talented, but collegiate success doesn’t translate to the NBA without hard work. With Jeremy Lin, Greivis Vasquez, and others likely ahead of him in the pecking order at this point, Whitehead is facing an uphill battle to get consistent playing time this season. However, the Nets are paying Whitehead like a first-rounder and are committed to giving the first-ever Brooklynite a fair shake at making a name for himself this season.

Who knows if his streaky shooting will immediately carry over, but he’s a fiery, tenacious athlete and, if nothing else, that will behoove Atkinson into getting the rookie onto the floor one way or another.

The Brooklyn Game Player Previews: Jorge GutiérrezEgidijus Mockevicius, Yogi Ferrell, Chase BudingerBeau Beech

Jeremy Lin