In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will profiled in this space and, in this edition, we examine Kentucky forward Kahlil Whitney.
For Kahlil Whitney, the 2019-20 season was quite an adventure. In contract to the bizarre nature of how the season ended for virtually every prospect due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitney’s brief collegiate career came to end in late January and, in the end, he took the floor for only 231 minutes across 18 games.
Before it all ended, Whitney was a consensus top-15 recruit in the country, choosing Kentucky over a bevy of additional offers. As you would expect for a player with that pedigree, Whitney began the season as a prominent member of John Calipari’s rotation but, after some struggles on the floor, his playing time waned.
In fact, Whitney saw the floor for 11 minutes or fewer in his final eight games in Lexington, setting the stage for the decision to withdraw from school in pursuit of other avenues. Whitney reportedly considered a transfer at the college level but, ultimately, he chose to enter the 2020 NBA Draft, even after his prospect status was considerably dinged by his time at Kentucky.
The 6’7 forward has a reported 7’0 wingspan and, simply put, Whitney is an explosive athlete to the point where it is easy to see why he was a highly regarded recruit. In addition to his raw tools, the Chicago native was quite productive in high school and in EYBL play, leaving some untapped potential for NBA teams to evaluate. Still, Whitney has a lot of weaknesses to make up for, even when remembering that he turned only 19 years old in January.
Offensively, Whitney’s performance was kind of a mess at Kentucky. He posted a 41.1 percent true shooting (a comically poor figure) that included just 4 of 16 from three-point range, 10 of 23 from the free throw line and 41 percent on two-point attempts. While it is worth pointing out that Whitney’s jumper isn’t completely broken, it would be extremely aggressive to bank on him as a solid shooter at the professional level, even while acknowledging that it could ultimately work.
His poor shooting numbers jump off the screen, and Whitney also struggled at the college level as both a ball-handler and a creator. To be fair, he likely won’t be asked to do a ton on the offensive end professionally but, with Whitney’s jumper operating as a significant question mark, it would be helpful if he cleaned up some of his other weaknesses.
When declaring for the draft, it did seem as if Whitney acknowledged his flaws and knows, at least to an extent, what NBA teams will be looking to see.
“During the pre-draft process I’m hoping to show every NBA team what so many others know I’m already capable of,” Whitney shared with ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. “These past few months, I’ve been really focused on my individual development and refining many of my skills: tightening up my shot mechanics, ball handling, pick and roll reads, passing, and understanding NBA terminology. I really want to show that I can do everything, that I’m an extremely hard worker and I embrace the grind.”
Still, Whitney committed 15 turnovers and generated only eight assists at Kentucky. Simply put, he was a glaringly subpar offensive player in college, with only offensive rebounding as a point of minor endorsement. Even in a small sample size, that is troubling from a projection standpoint.
More optimistically, there is a lot to like about his defensive tools. Whitney is generally active on that end of the floor and, at least in flashes, you can see potential in both his ability to defend on the ball and create some level of havoc in off-ball situations. His block and steal numbers aren’t terribly impressive, which has to be noted, but if you saw Whitney on the right day, it would be easy to like his defensive potential.
With that said, Whitney will need to fill out from a strength perspective and/or improve his perimeter defense in order to ultimately stick in the NBA. He has solid size at 6’7 but, at this stage, he is fairly thin, even while not having displayed the kind of package that would make him appealing to defend wings. You can see him, especially as a big-time leaper, being able to play the 4 quite a bit, but he would need to rebound much better to make that even a tangential possibility, and Whitney seemingly doesn’t have a lot of experience playing pure big man roles.
Ultimately, Whitney seems to be a candidate to be undrafted in 2020 — ESPN ranks him at No. 80 in the class, for example — and he might be a two-way candidate. Considering his consensus high school prospect ranking, it would be intriguing for an NBA team to potentially land Whitney on a Two-Way deal that was favorable to the organization. On the flip side, it is hard to make a strong stand on what Whitney’s NBA appeal should be in this moment, even if many considered him a potential first-round pick just a few months ago.