When Zach Lowe asked Jeremy Woo, who helped compile ESPN’s mock draft, who he thought did a good job on Thursday night, he was quick with the response...
“I like what Brooklyn did, ending staying at both 21 and 22, and going superyoung, taking two teenagers who don’t need to play right away,” said Woo.
He was of course referring to the Nets picks of Noah Clowney, the 6’10” Alabama big, at No. 21, and Dariq Whitehead, the 6’7” Duke wing, at 22. How young are they? Whitehead who doesn’t turn 19 till August 1 is the youngest Nets pick ever, while Clowney will still be 18 till July 15, making him the third youngest ever, behind Derrick Favors who the Nets took in 2010 while still in New Jersey. The Nets took Jalen Wilson, another wing out of Kansas, as well. He’s the greybeard of the trio at 22.
Woo wasn’t the only draftnik who thought Sean Marks & co. did well in what is considered one of the strongest drafts in years, topped by Victor Wembanyama, the 7’5” French freak. Looking around the web, we see a lot of A’s and B’s being recorded in the grade book.
In general, where outlets broke out the picks rather than providing an overall grade, Whitehead got higher mark in all but one case. And in each of those cases, the Whitehead won an A. In only one case did Whitehead get a lower grade, a C+ from Yahoo! Sports — based on his injury history. It was also the lowest grade any of the Nets picks received.
Here’s a sample:
With back-to-back picks late in the first round, the Nets took two of the draft’s youngest players. (Whitehead, who turns 19 in August, was the youngest drafted in the first round; Clowney was third.) Whitehead went a little earlier than expected but still well after my projections would have had him (11th) on the strength of his age and EYBL play. Clowney is a good fit for a team lacking size up front, while Wilson has the skills to stick as a role player on the wing.
21. Noah Clowney, 6’10” PF, Alabama, B-
The Nets address a need in the frontcourt with Clowney, a young project big who, at first blush, has many modern tools at his disposal. He has a smooth-looking standstill jump shot with range out to the NBA 3-point line, a great lunch-pail mentality on defense, and quick leaping ability. But the full picture is quite theoretical, and there is some rigidity in his hips and lateral movement that may lock him into the 5 position despite having the ideal size for a 4. The pathways to becoming a really good player are there for Clowney. And the Nets, both young and competitive, will likely have the patience to see that development through.
22. Dariq Whitehead, 6’7” SF, Duke, A
With their first pick, the Nets drafted for need; with their second, they bet on pure talent—a player who was once thought of as a potential top-five talent. Whitehead was one of the most decorated high school basketball players in recent memory, biding his time behind players like Cade Cunningham and Scottie Barnes before winning Naismith Prep Player of the Year in his senior season at the legendary Montverde Academy. Brooklyn is hoping Whitehead’s lone campaign at Duke, which he mostly spent recovering from a broken foot, was an aberration from who he actually is as a player. That player? A poised and athletic shot creator who, in a trying season of relearning his body, managed to turn himself into a really good 3-point shooter in spite of everything.
21. Brooklyn Nets (via Suns): PF Noah Clowney, Alabama
This is a big swing, a high-upside proposition that could flop. Brooklyn is trying balance rebuilding with staying in the playoff hunt because they don’t have a lot of their own future picks. Clowney has good size and rebounding and defense with some 3-point shooting potential. That last part intrigued teams, and if it hits, this will look smart. Grade: B
22. Brooklyn Nets: SF Dariq Whitehead, Duke
If you didn’t start watching Whitehead until he got to college, you don’t know Whitehead as a player. He was a high-profile prospect when he was in eighth grade. And he kept working and working despite being noticed so early in a state like New Jersey with a lot of attention. He was hurt in college, but he did develop his shooting anyway. My only concern is the medical side. If that’s clear, he can be a valuable add on their perimeter. Grade: A-
51. Brooklyn Nets: SF Jalen Wilson, Kansas
Players with the college pedigree and production profile of Wilson rarely fall this far in the draft, so I like this value for the Nets. He was a key piece of Kansas’ NCAA title two seasons ago and improved dramatically year-over-year with the Jayhawks, polishing off his college career last season being named the Big 12 Player of the Year and a consensus All-American honors. Grade: B
Noah Clowney (21), Dariq Whitehead (22), Jalen Wilson (51)
Feels like they hit some singles with possible double upside (sorry for the baseball metaphor, I’m still waking up). That’s not a bad thing given where they picked, but not the best.
21. Brooklyn (from Phoenix): F Noah Clowney, Alabama, Grade: B
After Wembanyama and Lively, Clowney is the next-best rim-protecting big and showed glimpses of an inside-out game during his one year at Alabama. The 6-10 center is still a little raw and will need some development, but teams loved his upside throughout the draft process and he’s a player who can give minutes to a secondary unit early in his rookie season.
22. Brooklyn: G Dariq Whitehead, Duke, Grade: C+
Whitehead had to undergo a second foot surgery after the initial injury he suffered at Duke did not heal correctly. As a high school prospect, Whitehead was one of the best two guards in the class. The Nets are taking a chance on Whitehead recovering and returning to form.
No. 21: Noah Clowney, F, Alabama, Freshman
No. 22: Dariq Whitehead, G, Duke, Freshman
The Nets get needed size in the ultra-talented 6-foot-10 Clowney and take a major swing for the fences with Whitehead, who was once considered a potential top-five pick before an injury-marred freshman season at Duke. Back-to-back shrewd picks by Sean Marks.
21. Brooklyn Nets – PF Noah Clowney – Alabama
Already having a premier shot-blocker in Nicolas Claxton, the Brooklyn Nets have become a deeper defensive team with the addition of Noah Clowney. Still just 18, Clowney is a raw offensive talent who possesses a lot of potential to grow as a pick-and-roll big man that plays well above the rim. Defensively, he can guard out on the perimeter or in the post and proved to be a viable defender anywhere on the floor. He has work to do, but this is a good spot for Clowney to learn and develop, especially since Brooklyn needed to add more size.
22. Brooklyn Nets – SF Dariq Whitehead – Duke
Whether or not he can be factor during his rookie season is the biggest question surrounding Dariq Whitehead, as he recently underwent a second foot surgery. If he never suffered a foot injury at the start of his freshman year at Duke, Whitehead would have been a Top-10 pick in this year’s draft, no questions asked. The Nets need a new, young star out on the wing to compliment Mikal Bridges and Whitehead can certainly be this player. He’s extremely versatile, plays hard on both ends and this is a terrific addition for the Nets.
21. Brooklyn Nets- Noah Clowney, F/C, Alabama
Clowney is young, raw, and oozing with upside if he can hit his ceiling. A 6’10 big man who will spend most of his time at the four but can also chip in at center, Clowney has the potential to be a floor-spacer on offense and supplemental shot-blocker on defense. While the long-term vision of him is enticing, he badly needs to add strength and continue to refine his technique at both ends of the floor.
22. Brooklyn Nets - Dariq Whitehead, G, Duke
Whitehead was supposed to be a top-five pick coming into Duke, but an early-season foot injury slowed his momentum. While he didn’t look like the athletic rim-attacker he was supposed to be as a recruit, Whitehead remade his game as a shooter. The three-point shot was considered a question mark for Whitehead heading into college, but he knocked down 43 percent of his threes as a freshman. Whitehead just had another foot surgery which is really scary, but if he can regain his explosiveness this is a great upside pick by the Nets.
The Athletic didn’t provide grades, but offered perhaps the most in-depth analysis.
Sam Vecenie: I think I’m probably going to end up a bit lower than the consensus on Clowney in large part because I’m worried about the offensive role as well as some of the specific athletic movement-based issues that could plague his best role. Offensively, Clowney needs to iron out his jumper, become a better passer and playmaker and improve his ballhandling if he wants to legitimately play as a four. He also needs to be able to improve his hip flexibility and lateral quickness to be able to consistently guard the perimeter. All these issues make me believe that he is more likely to play as a five than a four long term. But he also needs to really improve his overall strength level to handle significant minutes at that position. Right now, he’s something of a classic four/five tweener in the modern NBA.
Having said that, Clowney is 18 years old and one of the younger players in the draft. I think he’s probably entering a year early and will be a significant project to undertake, but his length, fluidity athletically and potential made him worthy of a late-first-round grade.
John Hollinger: Clowney is the highest rated frontcourt player left on my board, a young big who has “switch and stretch” potential, although we’re still working with raw clay here. I’d be surprised if he was able to give much help to the varsity in his first year, but he has the potential to be a long-term starter at both frontcourt spots due to his length and shooting.
Sam Vecenie: In every single regard, Whitehead is a bet. What he put on tape this past season in totality does not resemble that of a firstround pick. He was a great shooter but was largely deficient in every other aspect of the game. He was a below-average defender, rebounder and passer. He struggled to separate from his man. However, you can point to his foot injury and the late season lower leg injury as contextual factors that hindered him from having any chance to succeed. There is a legitimate case for throwing out the entire 2022-23 season and going back to dive into the high school tape to try to better determine who Whitehead is as a player, even though he was facing worse competition. Whitehead is a player for whom scouts will be working with incomplete information. There isn’t really any way to know for sure exactly how much athleticism Whitehead will be able to regain following this second foot surgery. On top of that, I’m not sure we know for sure what Whitehead looks like as a player even if you do add his previous levels of athleticism. The Nets will be betting on his foot getting back to 100 percent, allowing him to get back to his high school levels of twitch. Medical staffs and team trainers were undeniably involved in the process, letting decision-makers know how they feel about him. The best you can do is gather all the information and make an informed decision.
The good news for Whitehead is that teams always need shooting and size on the wing. And a big input into the Nets’ informed bet is, “If Whitehead hits, what can he become?” And in his case, the value of the role he’d play will always be high if he can get to a reasonable level athletically on defense. I think that was worth a late first-round flier. But I am working with less information on his medicals than teams are.
John Hollinger: I mocked Whitehead to Brooklyn at 21 – this should count in my stats! Brooklyn absolutely loves taking these medical cases, dating back to Caris LeVert, and figure they can do better on a questionable medical guys than they can on a questionable basketball player. I like Whitehead’s shooting ability, but his athleticism suffered from his foot troubles last season, so he’ll need to come back from a second, offseason foot surgery with more spark in his step.
Sam Vecenie: Wilson’s profile is fascinating. In a lot of ways, he doesn’t exactly scream NBA role player. He’s not an awesome shooter. He’s an average defender. He didn’t pass or make a ton of plays for his teammates this past season. But when I watch his game, he reminds me a lot of some of the good role players who have recently exceeded their draft value as they scale down into a different role. Think of guys like Caleb Martin and Dillon Brooks, both of whom were primary options in college and don’t exactly have immense measurables but figured it out in the NBA as impactful players who did whatever it takes to work. I think Wilson will just do whatever it takes and become an NBA rotation player. There is some downside here if the shooting doesn’t come along quite as much as you’d hope. But there is real upside to being comfortable handling the ball at the level Wilson can, even for role players in today’s NBA. There’s upside to being this big and strong while also being able to do things at speed and make plays as a passer. I just kind of think Wilson knows how to hoop and will figure it out, even if there is a learning curve.
John Hollinger: A player I had rated in the 50s, Wilson won a national title with Kansas two years ago but may struggle to adapt his game to an NBA that will want him to shoot 3s and play off the ball.
We’ll get to write down our own grades in 13 days when Summer League opens, although with Whitehead, we’ll have to wait till training camp, if not later. And of course, grades can change before the permanent record is sealed.