NBA Draft

Whitmore to Be NBA’s Next Athletic Star

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Quentin Grimes, Matthew Hurt, Coby White, Cole Anthony, Ayo Dosunmu, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Tyrese Maxey.

These were future NBA players who represented Team USA in the 2018 U18 Americas Championship. A trend: guards and bigs. No true wings.

Four years later, the competition has returned post-pandemic. Team USA, again, trotted out a group that dominated the competition. Everything was easy for the Americans, winning by an average of over 50 points per game.

Nobody stood a chance. 

The same thing happened in 2018. Team USA won by an average of 49 points per game. Hence, the trend of domination continued.

A change: the team’s top prospects were not highlighted by simply guards and bigs because Villanova commit Cam Whitmore, a wing, made his presence felt in Tijuana, Mexico. Of all the American prospects, it was Whitmore who shined the brightest and showed the most flashes.

Whitmore was the biggest winner of the U18 Americas. Fellow Class-of-2022 five-star recruits Kel’el Ware (committed to Oregon) and Anthony Black (committed to Arkansas), didn’t quite raise their stock to the same extent as Whitmore. Ware was absolutely dominant defensively and flashed offensive upside, and Black showed defensively versatility and elite passing.

Regardless, it doesn’t stand close to what Whitmore did to raise his stock.

Heading into the competition, Whitmore was viewed as a fringe top-10 prospect for the 2023 NBA Draft. Now, following the U18 Americas, it’s difficult not to have Whitmore as a top-seven prospect, and it’s plausible to say he’s top five at this moment.

He was that good and showed that much potential.

Whitmore didn’t even start the tournament on fire, but the overall flashes were there from the jump. In the first two games, he averaged 9.5 points per game, but in the next four, he jumped up to 23.3 points per. He excelled at a higher volume with more opportunity; he didn’t play badly in the first two games.

In fact, Whitmore still exemplified that he was an elite prospect in the first two games despite not averaging double-digit points. The below Tweet is from just after the conclusion of the second game.

OFFENSIVE GAME

What makes Whitmore such an elite prospect? It’s truly his all-around play and ridiculously high ceiling.

The (extremely) easy part of evaluating Whitmore is the glaring athleticism. It was obvious from the first minutes of stepping onto the court in the opening game against the Dominican Republic. Dunking was no challenge in any of the six games that Team USA played. It was as routine as could be.

No, that’s not all of them. It’s not even close to all of them. The man is just a ridiculous vertical athlete.

Whitmore clearly exceeds what it means to be an “NBA athlete” in every facet. That second clip particularly stands out. It did not seem like that would be a dunk, but Whitmore practically elevates and floats to slam it down.

Whitmore loves getting out in transition, something that obviously works in part due to his athleticism. Whether he is grabbing a rebound and pushing or running without the ball, he’s a clear threat. What enables this to be effective is the aforementioned all-around play; he can dribble and pass. Oh, and he can dunk on you without too much effort.

This fragment of Whitmore’s game is particularly intriguing when considering that he will be attending Villanova in the fall. Villanova, more than any team in the country, is known for slower, more methodical play. This clearly contradicts a strength of Whitmore, so it will be interesting to see how this turns out shortly. Villanova ranked 348th in pace among 358 D1 teams last season and 326th in the prior season.

Therefore, if Villanova tries to slow down Whitmore next season and this part of his game is not shown as much, know it’s there, and he’s more than capable of being an elite player in transition. 

Team USA found themselves out in transition a lot. They had a clear athletic advantage over their opponents. Whitmore worked well with Anthony Black, who similarly excels in transition. For Black, however, it was mainly his precise passing that made him such a threat in the open court.

While the opponents of Team USA are inferior athletes, it doesn’t seem like Whitmore’s athleticism popped because of this. He clearly was the best athlete on Team USA, and this athleticism popped in prior games against his fellow prospects (Jordan Classic Games, McDonald’s All-American Game).

He is, without a doubt, a 99th-percentile athlete.

Whitmore running at you downhill is a scary sight. In that first clip, he uses a nice change of speed to blow by his defender, then proceeds to rise up and make dunking look easy. The second displays something that is also an elite ability: his body control and finesse (more on this later). 

There’s simply no denying Whitmore’s finishing ability. Just when you think you’re in front of him and stopping him, he has the ability to dish to a teammates in transition. Whitmore’s passing is extremely good, especially off the dribble.

Being a threat to score and pass in transition is what makes somebody elite here. They need both to be elite. Whitmore can do both, and he does it at a smart level as well. He never gives the ball up too prematurely to the point where a great look isn’t generated.

Whitmore’s processing seems to be good. He doesn’t tend to make bad reads despite moving so fast in transition. Very rarely does he speed himself up. Seeing if this translates to a higher level will be important, but he possessed this quality at a high level in Tijuana. It would be shocking if it were to disappear, especially considering Villanova’s coaching pedigree. 

While he thrives particularly in transition, Whitmore is still an effective offensive option in the half-court. His level of finishing and passing translates well from transition, and his handle — while it could (and should) be improved — is solid. 

Whitmore is very composed in the half-court, too. He makes the right play, and he’s a very useful player there due to his versatility. He was mainly employed as a guy to attack off the catch, and he was extremely effective in that role. Team USA overall was quite unselfish, playing a team-orientated offense.

There’s a ridiculous amount to unpack in just five clips. The first is just such an advanced move with such great finesse and body control. The second and third is Whitmore using his IQ to pick apart Puerto Rico’s 2-3 zone defense by finding open spots, then driving and finishing. A similar story in the final clip, Whitmore finds the defender sleeping and smartly cuts backdoor to get a layup.

And that fourth clip, sheesh. The first step, burst and explosion. It’s rare. It’s special.

The idea of obtaining paint touches is something modern offenses love because they can lead to collapsing and therefore scrambling defenses. We already know Whitmore’s ability to get downhill and attack is a scary sight. Saying he generates paint touches at will is a stretch, but he’s very adept at creating them.

And while he generates these paint touches, Whitmore is capable of making elite passes in the half-court. Because he is such an effective finisher once he’s by his man, extra help tends to step up to force a pass. As mentioned, Whitmore is proficient at these types of dimes.

Passes like the first three seem bound to translate to any level. On the first, he freezes No. 5 with the jump pass as he tries to split the difference to throw a bullet to an open man. On the second and third, he throws a type of hook pass straight off the dribble for shots right at the rim. The next step is off-the-dribble cross-court passes, but he clearly has a high IQ and court vision, as shown by his skip pass in the fourth clip. The vision and IQ are there. 

Whitmore is usually always in control when dribbling. As previously mentioned, he doesn’t let opponents speed him up. It may appear this way because of the inferior competition in the U18 Americas, but he seems to always be in control. This is apparent with his excellent body control and finesse, something that contributes his passing but particularly his finishing.

Those last clips against Brazil should stand out. The athleticism combined with the IQ and the overall fluidity is beautiful. Sometimes, younger players with insane vertical athleticism will try to dunk everything and/or play recklessly.

Not Whitmore. He’s a very smart player.

He does very well at filling open spots on the court through cutting and relocating. Part of these openings may be due to an inferior defense, yes, but the ability to routinely find these openings in ways that none of his teammates did was impressive and pops on film. Some of this has been evident in prior clips as well.

Additionally, his patience and feel with the ball stand out at times. Despite his athleticism and excellent ability in transition, he doesn’t seem to rush to get out in transition.

In the first and final clip, Whitmore realizes that he doesn’t have numbers, so he slows it down before attacking to create a positive outcome. In the other clips, he finds himself behind the defense for a bucket (or in the case of the third clip, the ball slipping out of his hands).

It’s high-level basketball IQ.

Whitmore isn’t a guy who’s a point guard despite having the ability to make great passes off the dribble. While he can take the ball up the court, it’s preferable that he isn’t the primary initiator at this stage. The main improvement for him to get to this elite initiator status is improving his handle; there’s the good and the bad.

The good is that against the best competition, Whitmore showed these flashes of being a primary initiator and bucket-getter. In the gold medal game against Brazil, Whitmore was outstanding. It was his best game of the tournament.

Whitmore’s 30 points in the final game were the most in a single game throughout the entirety of the tournament for all players. He was a scoring machine, also holding three of the seven total performances throughout the tournament with at least 24 points (the other two games came against Mexico and Puerto Rico).

If Whitmore is doing this, he’s tough to stop. Any Whitmore hitting threes is a ridiculously good player. One notable inclusion in these clips is that Whitmore is not afraid of contact and, in fact, embraces it. His strength is particularly evident as well.

Now, the bad. The bad is that Whitmore’s handle is occasionally loose and is simply too inconsistent. 

This isn’t the end of the world. Whitmore still is 17 years old. He was actually one of the younger players on Team USA. Having the handle he has for his athleticism and all of his other traits could be seen as a plus when considering his handle is already somewhat developed.

Working on his handle, however, should be a priority. His first step is very good, though maybe not top-tier (he’s a better vertical athlete as opposed to a ‘bursty’ athlete). Another part of Whitmore’s game that could be zoned in on is his shooting.

During the tournament, Whitmore shot 45.5% from three (10/22), a number that results extremely high hopes. However, his 62.5% shooting from the line (10/16) gives some reason to believe that shooting level isn’t totally legit.

As previously mentioned, Whitmore with a jump shot and creating threes for himself is scary. He already has the driving and passing ability. If he can consistently generate close-outs (via a respectable three) to attack and can get downhill that way, it’s enough. Force defenses to respect it.

The form isn’t perfect and could use some work. It just isn’t as fluid. But some of these shots give real hope, as they are off the dribble. The second-to-last clip is particularly intriguing. The defense is giving him the shot, and realizing it’s open, he steps back to take the three. 

But still, if he can just be respectable from three, that seems to be enough, and it seems to be at that level or approaching it. If it exceeds that ‘respective’ level, boy, look out.

One aspect Whitmore did not really show was an in-between, mid-range game. His shots seemed to be confined to rim shots or threes (much more of the former). He never took floaters or mid-range pull-ups, which is something to monitor once his freshman season begins.

DEFENSIVE GAME

Whitmore is incredibly effective on the offensive side of the court, clearly. On the other side of the court, it’s fair to say he isn’t quite as good. The upside and flashes seem to be there for Whitmore to become a clear positive on that side of the floor, however. To put it simply, he has the athleticism to become a very good defender both on and off of the ball. 

In the U18 Americas, Whitmore shined guarding the ball as opposed to off of it. His previously mentioned athleticism helped him stay in front of offensive players, and he uses his body well defensively. To see if this will translate to the college level with more skilled players and athletes is important, however.

Getting the gist of Whitmore’s defense in screening situations — either as the defender of the ball-handler or the screener — simply was not possible due to Team USA’s switching scheme. They switched everything. This will be something to watch keenly for at Villanova.

While the on-ball defense was consistently there, the same cannot be said for the off-ball defense, which was lackluster. Perhaps this can be attributed to the attitude that the games weren’t close and there wasn’t a reason to care about off-ball defense.

Whitmore routinely looked out of it when off the ball, as he occasionally let up back-door cuts and let passes through that ultimately should not have gotten by him.

If there is any collegiate team that is going to require full effort out of their players, it feels like it would be Villanova. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a more locked-in Whitmore off the ball defensively next year.

Oh, and the foundation is there for weak-side rim protection.

Ideally, he should be there a step sooner; using his athleticism for blocks like that can’t be relied on to the same extent in college. Admittingly, this may be nit-picky.

PROSPECTIVE ANALYSIS

The 2023 draft class is much more hyped than its predecessor. Beyond the generational Victor Wembanyama, there’s Scoot Henderson, Amen and Ausar Thompson, and more. It’s ridiculously stacked.

And it’s hard not to include Whitmore in that discussion. He’s truly up there in this upcoming draft class. Critics may say the competition was so weak in the U18 Americas that it’s hard to believe that says anything.

Something those critics cannot disagree with, however, is that Whitmore was the clear-cut top Team USA prospect, outperforming Kel’el Ware and Anthony Black. That is something that has to have importance, it seems.

It seems like it’s nearly a lock that Whitmore becomes the first one-and-done at Villanova since Tim Thomas, who played for the Big East school in 1997. Whitmore brings elite athleticism and slashing ability with ridiculous passing flashes and clear shooting and defensive upside.

That’s one great prospect.

It’s officially 2023 draft season with the conclusion of the 2022 draft last month. Strap in, and it’s go time. Buy your Cam Whitmore stock.

About Charlie Spungin

Twitter: @CharlieS3_

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