Height: 6’5.75″ w/o shoes
Weight: 235 pounds
Standing reach: 8’7.5″
Cam Whitmore arrived on the Villanova campus with high expectations. A consensus five-star and Rivals’ 10th-ranked player in the high school class of 2022, Whitmore is one of the highest-ranked recruits in the recent history of the program. Prior to joining the Wildcats, he showed out last summer on the FIBA circuit and was named MVP of the U18 Americas Championship.
A thumb injury sidelined him for the first seven games of his freshman season, but Whitmore steadily integrated himself into the lineup, becoming a starter by the turn of the calendar and claiming the Big East Freshman of the Year award at the conclusion of the season. In entering the 2023 NBA Draft, the 18-year-old Whitmore becomes Villanova’s first true one-and-done since Tim Thomas in 1997.
Intersection of strength and shot creation, burst/explosiveness, finishing versatility
To me, this is the main selling point for Whitmore as a prospect; few players at his age are able to combine strength, skill and fluid footwork and leverage it for self-creation in the way that he can. Take a quick look across the NBA, and every competitive team has a wing (or two) that stands 6-foot-6 or taller, can create a shot within 2-3 dribbles from anywhere on the floor, punish the defense on open looks and get into the paint when ran off their spot.
Though Whitmore’s season-long 3-point percentage of 34.3 doesn’t jump put, only 54.1% of his makes were assisted per BartTorvik, a staggeringly-low number. He flashed shot creation in droves, utilizing his supreme lower-body strength and legitimate 99th-percentile athleticism to create space on a wide variety of step-backs, side-step and hop-step jumpers that require immense levels of coordination, strength and ball-handling ability to execute.
Whitmore will be able to attack defenders one-on-one with his step-back going left and convert in an efficient manner from day-one in my opinion. His creation style works at both the second and third levels, and he has the touch and size to get it off over athletic defenders that offer contests and cover ground quickly.
The most noticeable way to me that Whitmore weaponizes his lower body strength is creating space going away from, or parallel with the hoop, a critical element of his second and third-level scoring. Not far behind that: an explosive first step. Whitmore teleports past defenders on drives, even from a standstill and especially on the move.
Once he gets a defender on his hip, his core strength makes it difficult to bump him off his path, and he can cover a ton of ground with that last, leaping step used to take off towards the rim. Functional ball-handling and long strides maximize the downhill speed he generates when planting his back foot and accelerating toward the paint.
Strength and finesse is a wildly entertaining skill combination to watch play out on a basketball court. The ease at which Whitmore can drive into the defense, generate contact and fight through it to finish is pretty remarkable for a player his age. He keeps a low, tight dribble and the ball never strays too far from his body. Once he gets past his initial defender, he can complete any gather-step needed to evade digging and helping defenders.
Look at how easily he gets his on-ball defender on his hip, and then just barrels through two people on his way to the rim. He left the layup short, but even if the initial foul hadn’t been called, he was more than happy to clean things up himself anyway.
Shot creation is all the rage in the NBA these days, right? Even still, teams need multiple players that excel working off-ball as well. Early on, I’d imagine it’ll be slightly harder for Whitmore to generate clean looks from a standstill than it was in college given his subpar playmaking. Hustling out in transition, filling lanes and using that high-flying athleticism to space the floor not only beyond the arc, but vertically above the rim is an avenue for easy buckets as a rookie.
Whenever he’s not in position to fight for the rebound, Whitmore is off to the races looking for an easy highlight-reel dunk on the other end. The one and two-footed leaping along with the ability to elevate off the wrong foot, is very impressive. Impeccable footwork and body control on drives are difficult skills to acquire through training and practice. Whitmore still has room development as a finisher, but he has truly unique natural athletic gifts in the form of strength, verticality, foot speed and coordination.
I remember watching the FIBA U-18s last summer and frantically scouring the internet for Whitmore’s high school film upon seeing this play. A 17-year-old having the confidence in their athletic ability to pull this off on a whim is moderately frightening. He’s nearly a third of the way to the free-throw line and has to angle himself towards the rim to dunk this, and he does it comfortably through contact. My heart goes out to the poor soul stuck in no man’s land on this play. He tried to take a charge. It didn’t work out.
Playmaking production, off-ball/team defensive consistency
For a wing that’s projected to be drafted inside the top-10, Whitmore has a historically-low assist rate. It’s rare for a wing to be drafted highly after producing so little as a passer, especially as the game has modernized and now requires an expansive offensive skillset from every player on the roster. Whitmore totaled 19 assists across 26 games in college and recorded more than one assist in a game just six times. In more than half of the games he appeared in, he tallied zero assists.
It’s evident in the film that the vast majority of the times Whitmore engaged the defense, it was in an effort to create his own shot, not for his teammates. He doesn’t miss on a ton of passing reads or process them slowly, mostly because he didn’t even put himself in position to make them. He was far too geared towards scoring at Villanova; tunnel vision pops up often in his film, especially once he gets a step into the paint on drives. At times, I think he fell a bit too in love with his athleticism and finishing ability. I don’t blame him for wanting to dunk on dudes, but drop-off passes and corner kicks are easier, even for athletes like him. Misguided focus as a ball-handler can’t be absolved, but another part of the issue might’ve been that this was a poor Wildcats team by the school’s recent standards.
The 22-23 Wildcats started 2-5 when Whitmore was injured and finished 17-17, the program’s most losses in a season in 11 years. Only three teammates that attempted at least 2 3PA per game were more efficient than Whitmore; Eric Dixon, Brenden Hausen (8.9 MPG) and Brandon Slater.
I’m hesitant to pin a prospect’s shortcomings on a subpar supporting cast, but our own Bryce McGowens suffered in a similar context at Nebraska. McGowens flipped his negative assist-to-turnover ratio at Nebraska into the positives as a rookie — it wouldn’t surprise me if Whitmore underwent a similar sea change over time. A shift in mindset, approach and upgraded team context aided by a professional organization can work wonders for young players that struggled to set the table for teammates in college.
But, there’s always the chance that it doesn’t happen — hopefully, it’s much smaller. It does get a little rough if you dive into the list of wings taken in the top-half of the first round with a similar assist rate to Whitmore’s. Any Whitmore detractor is sure to list this as a chief concern.
I think his ability to generate steals defensively, make quick decisions to attack driving angles and read his defender’s hips as a ball-handler display feel and instincts that didn’t surface in the form of assists this season. Once he fully grasps his gravity as a shooter and finisher, I think he’ll be able to operate as a high-level play-finisher with ample passing ability after drawing the help towards him. If not, though, there’s admittedly not much of a case to be made for selecting this archetype high in the lottery given the results from past draftees.
The easiest comparison from the group above is probably Patrick Williams, but he went fourth in a significantly weaker class that also saw three of its best long-term players slip outside the top-10 in Desmond Bane, Tyrese Haliburton and Tyrese Maxey. Most of the other players have had long, fruitful careers — but none have come particularly close to being named All-Stars. Whitmore would have the lowest assist rate of any first-round selection, regardless of position, since Kai Jones in 2021. None of these stats or trends are particularly endearing.
There are a few aspects of Whitmore’s defense that I’d actually consider strengths right now. He has a edge rusher’s instinct of how to position his body to dislodge screeners without fouling, or simply bend around them. A plus-two wingspan and an elite strength/footwork combo lend themselves well to point-of-attack defense and general on-ball screen coverages, though there are communicative inconsistencies.
On-ball, he has fantastic hands, always keeps a low stance and has the quickness and strength to hold up against any guard, wing or forward in space. He was actually in the top-20 in STL% in the nation among freshman along with Anthony Black and Cason Wallace. To me, becoming a switchable defender with versatility to lock down 2-4 at a high level and gobble up smalls with loose handles is a realistic outcome for Whitmore.
Whitmore isn’t some hard-nosed, lunch-pail defender that slaps the floor and screams at halfcourt. He knows where his bread is buttered — he covers a ton of ground in rotation, locks down on-ball and uses his strong frame to battle for position on the interior.
I’ve seen some draft analysts question Whitmore’s defensive motor and I don’t really understand it. There are times where he may seem disengaged off-ball, but then springs into action on a moment’s notice when he needs to rotate. To quote San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado, not everyone is “Johnny Hustle.” Beyond the flashes of point-of-attack defense and on-ball stoppage on the perimeter, he also aggressively fights with opposing bigs when he finds himself in the paint.
The clips below demonstrate some hyper-specific 1990s hoops fundamentals. Look at how wide Whitmore’s stance is when battling for position, allowing him to hold firm despite the weight disadvantage. He also uses his hips and core to wiggle around his man while making sure he has at least one arm in position to wrangle in an entry pass. It’s subtle, but nobody can do things like that while playing with minimal effort.
Not only does he display sound technique at times, it’s also quite athletic to be able to hold off Ed Croswell and Adama Sanogo for extended periods, bogging down the offense as a by-product. It won’t result in a turnover or a miss on every possession, but Whitmore is going to make an opposing team’s big man’s life difficult any time they get matched up with him.
Through my experience scouting this draft class, few players have sold me harder on their NBA upside than Cam Whitmore. The foundation of his game is a mixture of unteachable athletic traits and supreme skill, a combination that could only be achieved with a professional’s work ethic. As one of the youngest players in the class, there’s plenty of room to grow as a playmaker, and in the meantime he can provide shot-making, strong finishing and defensive energy.
A crucial element in what makes a high-upside, “developmental” prospect successful in the long run is the ability to impact winning on an NBA floor early in their career. Plenty of prospects enter the league with the boom-or-bust label, and bust out because they can’t put it together in-game as young players. As a result, they never see meaningful minutes and don’t develop quickly enough for teams to continue to invest in them. The rawness in some of Whitmore’s traits at the moment are outweighed by the NBA translation in some of the most tantalizing aspects of his game. Most prospects that garner polarizing opinions don’t have that luxury.
Whitmore is an athletic 6-foot-7 wing that checks both of those boxes — self-created jumpers, driving handle and on-ball defense will get him on the floor, and incremental improvements as a passer and team defender could elevate him to an All-Star-caliber level. The flashes of competence and immediate translation coupled with sky-high upside are too much for me to pass up on outside of the top three.