Injury concerns have tanked Dariq Whitehead’s stock, but with the right team he could be the steal of the NBA Draft.
Before the his freshman season at Duke, Dariq Whitehead was widely projected as a top-10 pick. He was one of the most complete high school players on the board — a Swiss Army knife with go-to scoring potential.
The season did not go according to plan for Whitehead. He missed time early due to a lingering foot injury, then struggled mightily upon his return. He only shot 41.4 percent on 2-point attempts and he looked like a shell of himself athletically.
Whitehead underwent a second procedure on his foot after the season. On one hand, he definitely wasn’t 100 percent at Duke. Maybe teams will be more comfortable relying on the high school tape. On the other hand, foot injuries are notoriously fickle.
Dariq Whitehead NBA Draft profile
Weight: 220 pounds
Birthdate: August 1, 2004
Position: Small Forward/Shooting Guard
Offensive Role: Slashing wing, ancillary playmaker
Defensive Role: Switchable wing
Projected Draft Range: 10-40
NBA Draft highlights
Despite a challenging season overall, Whitehead established a very high floor as a prospect with his elite 3-point shooting. He shot 42.4 percent on 3.5 attempts per game from range. He was absolute money off the catch, while still flashing the movement and pull-up shooting skills that made his pre-Duke tape pop.
Whitehead struggled to get all the way to the rim with the Blue Devils, but he did display his feather-soft touch on floaters and mid-range jumpers. Whitehead has the tough shot-making gene — even when he doesn’t gain much separation off the bounce, he’s comfortable elevating and sticking a jumper right in the defender’s face. If he can develop more wiggle off the bounce and get some of his pre-injury burst back, there’s untapped potential as a go-to scorer on top of his baseline shooting ability.
Also a reactive passer who is comfortable locating shooters or rolling bigs out of the pick-and-roll, Whitehead could one day to progress to secondary ball-handling duties with his future NBA team. He’s an intelligent offensive player overall, capable of crisp passing reads and aware of when and where to move without the basketball. The potential scalability of his offensive skill set is quite tantalizing.
Whitehead should have NBA suitors based on the appeal of his frame and shooting alone. It’s hard to fail as a wing with positional size and 40+ percent 3-point chops. The injuries are a concern and it’s fair to wonder if Whitehead will ever reach his ceiling, but a lot of draft pundits are seriously underrating his floor. He’s also 18 years old, one of the youngest prospects on the board. He has plenty of time to develop.
Two foot surgeries in the same year is never a good sign. Whitehead looked like an absolute dud athletically for stretches of the season at Duke, especially early on. Finishing at the rim has always been a problem for Whitehead but it was especially problematic with the Blue Devils. He couldn’t get the elevation necessary to challenge shot-blockers. He will only face bigger, better athletes in the NBA.
Whitehead’s tremendous shot-making talent will only go so far if he can’t put pressure on the rim. Plus, there is always a level of concern with players who rely on difficult, contested jumpers. Whitehead doesn’t create a ton of space off the bounce — that, plus a lack of rim pressure, isn’t always the best indicator of future NBA efficiency.
On the defensive end, there are similar concerns tied to Whitehead’s athleticism. More explosive NBA athletes will test him in space. He’s a strong team defender who can generate chaos in passing lanes, but his ability to stop the ball at the point of attack in certain matchups could be troublesome.
Whitehead will enter the final month of draft season with a lottery grade on our big board. His shot-making talent dating back to high school, plus his elite 3-point numbers at Duke, provide a strong foundation for optimism. If he can progress more as a playmaker on the ball and make even marginal improvements with his finishing numbers at the rim, Whitehead has the potential to be one of the best offensive players in the draft.
That said, the proof wasn’t really in the proverbial pudding for Whitehead at Duke. He struggled in college and now NBA teams won’t get to see him in pre-draft workouts because of his foot injury. The foot problems, recency bias, and lack of intimate pre-draft familiarity could cause teams to pass Whitehead over in June. Whitehead feels like he could legitimately go as high as the lottery or as low as the second round.
If the right team latches on, however, and is willing to take a leap of faith in a very talented 18-year-old who clearly wasn’t at full strength in college, Whitehead could pay massive dividends. Nabbing Whitehead in the 20s or 30s would feel like potential highway robbery.