Isaiah Whitehead: Building Block or Expendable Asset

Among a weak rookie class, Isaiah Whitehead stood out as a promising player. This is a huge positive, as it is crucial for Sean Marks to make the most of the Brooklyn Nets’ few draft picks.

There is a reason why former Nets publics address announcer, David Diamante introduced Whitehead as, “a 6-4 guard, from Brooklyn!” Whitehead was a highly-touted recruit during his time at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn. Along with Stephon Marbury and Lance Stephenson, Whitehead was one of the best players to come out of Lincoln. Despite receiving offers from big-time programs such as Indiana and Minnesota, he chose to stay local and attended Seton Hall University. The Pirates went 6-12 during conference play the season before Whitehead joined the team, meaning he would have a lot of pressure on his shoulders to bring the program back to relevancy.

Under Kevin Willard, Whitehead thrived during the 2014-15 season and led Seton Hall back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004. Following this run, he opted to forego his final two years of NCAA eligibility, thus entering his name in the 2016 NBA Draft.

Whitehead was thought of as a sleeper leading up to the draft. He turned a lot of heads after leading his team to an upset of eventual National Champion, Villanova, in the Big East Championship. Analysts projected him to go at varying points in the second round. This was partially due to an ongoing debate over whether he would be best suited as a point guard or shooting guard at the next level.

Despite entering the draft with little flexibility, Marks walked away with his preferred players. In addition to trading Thaddeus Young for the 20th pick (which turned into Caris LeVert), the Nets also acquired the 42nd pick from the Utah Jazz. The front office did not hesitate to take Whitehead at that spot.

Whitehead had an impressive rookie year in Brooklyn. He played well above his 42nd pick value over the 73 games he participated in throughout the season. “The Cyclone,” as Ian Eagle has affectionately nicknamed Whitehead, notched more points last season than Kris Dunn and Jakob Poeltl (both lottery picks) did combined.

Whitehead showcased a multitude of talents last season — specifically, on the offensive end of the floor where he showed potential as a playmaker, shot creator, finisher, and mid-range jump shooter. While he didn’t seem to particularly overachieve in any of these categories, the Nets have openly welcomed a unique player like Whitehead.

For starters, Whitehead showed he can not only create opportunities for himself to score but his teammates as well. These instances were rare but looked impressive when successful. This was, in fact, a theme of Whitehead’s rookie season in all facets. Despite being few and far between, he showed several small flashes of a well-rounded, versatile guard.

His favorite targets included Trevor Booker, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and of course, Brook Lopez. Hollis-Jefferson was particularly efficient off Whitehead’s passes, as he converted on 51 percent of his shots fed by the Seton Hall product. Whitehead and RHJ continued to show a connection during Summer League. Among other notable stats, Lopez and Justin Hamilton connected on 58.7 percent and 62.5 percent of shots respectively off passes from Whitehead.