2023 NBA Draft Profile: Dariq Whitehead

NBA Position: Wing

General Info: 18-year-old Freshman, played at Duke. From Newark, New Jersey.

Measurables: 6’6, 217 lbs, 6’10.25 wingspan.

2022-23 Season Statistics: 8.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 1.4 TPG (28 games played, 20.6 minutes a contest), 41.4% FG, 42.9% 3P, 79.3% FT

All hyperlinks in this profile are video clips showcasing the skills discussed. Stats are from Synergy Sports or Basketball Reference.

Duke freshman Dariq Whitehead had a rough season in Durham. The former 5 star recruit suffered a right foot injury in August 2022, right as the Blue Devils began preparing for the season. The injury required surgery, and throughout much of the year the 18-year-old rarely looked like the explosive star he was heralded as before college. He still had some bright flashes at Duke, especially as a deep shooter, and his offensive numbers improved later into the year. But there’s no denying that his overall impact was a shadow of the expectations, which is why he’s being talked about as a late 1st-round pick rather than the lotto-lock he seemed a year ago.

Before you glance at his statistics above and bounce off this profile, here was a regular highlight for Dariq before his foot injury, when he was a promising star at Montverde Academy. His combination of three-level scoring, athleticism, and confidence made him look like he had the tools and clear pathway to NBA success.

This is a far cry from the slower, more-grounded Whitehead we saw at Duke, who struggled to put pressure on the rim. But when Whitehead’s representatives announced this month that his original injury had not healed properly and required a second surgery, there was a collective “that explains everything” that resonated through the NBA Draft twitter community. And while nothing is assured in basketball or in health, if Whitehead’s medical records pass inspection by NBA doctors and training staff, he could offer teams later in the 1st round a chance to buy low on a potential three-level scorer with high upside.

Let’s hit the great news first; Whitehead is one hell of a deep shooter. He shot 42.9% from three on 98 attempts on the season, and was 44.3% on all catch-and-shoot shots (1.32 points per possession, 94th percentile in the nation). His form looks consistent, he’s got range way out to the NBA three, and he’s got wiggle on his jump when defenders come flying at him. He’s one of the more fluid and natural shooters in the draft class, and can hit off of movement. He was the only Duke player this season to shoot better than 35% from three (I think his deep shot should have been a bigger part of their offense), and he did a good job of moving off the ball and getting free if defenders looked away. His ability to bomb off the catch will give him an obvious role in the NBA.

He also shot 38.7% on off-the-dribble shots at Duke (0.91 PPP, 71st percentile in the nation), and his sweet stroke and ability to quick-hit from deep and the mid-range going back to high school gives evidence that he can be both an on- and off-ball scoring threat in the future. Whitehead shot 40% on mid-range jumpers last season (albeit on low volume, just 20 total attempts), and loves to use a spin move to create space from defenders. His quickness and elevation were less-than-ideal at times, but considering how much of the rest of his game was hampered, it’s impressive that Whitehead’s shooting numbers were as strong as they were all season long.

Much of the rest of Whitehead’s game is very much up in the air. Without his explosiveness, he didn’t always show great touch at the basket, and shot just 50% at the rim on the season (25th percentile across the nation). His assist numbers (1 APG, 27 total on the year) aren’t impressive, but he had flashes of vision and passes with flare.  Whitehead was also a minimal factor on the glass, snagging just 2 per game (4.7 per 40 minutes). This isn’t overly surprising, given his spacing role on offense and the fact that Duke played a lot of multi-big man lineups (featuring 7’0 Kyle Filipowski, 6’8 Mark Mitchell, 6’10 Ryan Young, and fellow 2023 draftee 7’1 Dereck Lively II). But that won’t be a workable excuse in the NBA should Dariq hesitate to crash the glass given his 6’6 size and 6’10 wingspan.

On defense, Whitehead had a mixed season at Duke. I thought he looked better in the later games of the season that I watched, especially in the NCAA tournament. He plays physical and bodies up opponents, uses his length to recover on misplays, and tries to dig at ball-handlers and get into passing lanes. His physical tools could give him some real defensive range after some experience with a smart defensive coach. But he also repeatedly failed to stick with quicker opponents on perimeter drives – something Duke compensated for with their big-man lineups, but  a bigger concern moving forward. While no one drafted at #24 will change the Kings defensive trajectory, one wonders if this roster—especially with their perimeter drive struggles and lack of rim protection—can handle more defensive question marks moving forward, especially from the wing.

Given that so much of the allure for Whitehead is in his tape from Montverde Academy, check out this pre-Duke/pre-injury scouting report video from Adam Spinella, who runs an awesome Substack for NBA draft nerds. Spinella captures the offensive upside that made Dariq an early lottery-pick favorite.

The biggest questions surrounding Whitehead are for the NBA medical and training staff, who are much more qualified to speak on this stuff than I am. Foot injuries are always scary, especially for an 18-year-old who clearly needed his verticality and explosiveness to bring out the best in his offensive game. There’s no clear answer for armchair scouts as to how much this second surgery will help Whitehead’s quickness, bounce, and confidence—and how much adding those three things back into his game will help him improve his defense moving forward.

But to me, the second biggest question is for Monte McNair, and how risky he’s willing to play with his #24 overall pick. If Whitehead is there for the Kings, would Sacramento swing for the fences on a player who, until August of last year, seemed on a trajectory to be a early-lottery selection? Or do hypotheticals not mean much in basketball when the the ball always tells the final truth? The Sacramento Kings have, in McNair’s tenure, used their 1st round picks on proven producers who had high basketball instincts and clear roles at the next level. Whitehead meets one of those requirements—at the very least, we know he can be a high-level floor spacer—and offers no sureties outside of that shot. But I believe that with patience, a coach with a defense-first approach, a strong developmental system, and some no-injury luck, Dariq Whitehead could be one of the better players in his draft range.

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