Isaiah Whitehead is still finding his way in the NBA, but there’s one aspect of his offensive game that stands above the rest.
No one seems to have any clue how to stop The Whitehead Spin. It’s a move he uses extremely often, maybe not every game but at least once in every few. When he employs it, the defender is usually left in the dust and the Coney Island native is at the basket for an easy layup.
It started in his high school days, at Lincoln. As a bit of a positional enigma — he was mostly a point guard before going to Seton Hall, where he played off the ball as a freshman and on ball as a sophomore — Whitehead has, partially due to necessity, played at the point a lot with the Nets in his rookie season.
Now, with the emergence of Spencer Dinwiddie as a capable ball-handler, he has reverted back to more of his college role, freeing him up to be a score-first guard. When in a one-to-one matchup, Whitehead loves spinning to his left to shed the defender and create space. He’s confident with his off-hand at the rim, so it often results in points.
Whitehead’s uber-aggressive style of play works on both ends of the floor, and he’s remarkably unafraid of any contact when he goes up for a shot. What the spin allows him to do is avoid that contact and minimize the chances he gets blocked.
It’s also a very effective weapon off high pick-and-rolls. In the clip above, the bigger Dante Cunningham is switched onto Whitehead with Trevor Booker cutting freely to the rim as Jrue Holiday stands in no man’s land. Whitehead could have forced a pass to Booker in the lane, but it could have easily been stolen.
Instead, Whitehead holds onto the ball and exploits his mismatch. Cunningham favors Whitehead’s right hand, preventing the direct drive to the hoop on that side of the floor. But, the spin takes that overplay and turns it into an advantage for Whitehead, as Cunningham is thrown basically out of the picture and the Nets’ rookie has a free layup.
The spin only works when it’s done decisively and in the right play. Because Whitehead does it so quickly — it takes a split-second and then…boom — the defender has no time to react and other defenders don’t have time to help. It’s close to unstoppable.
The move can also result in other players scoring, in addition to Whitehead. Here, he takes the pick and switch to simply get in the lane, where the defense collapses on him and leaves one of his teammates wide open.
Notice the shot clock, too. Whitehead brings up the ball quickly after a missed Xavier shot which catches the Musketeers in the first five seconds of the possession when the defense isn’t fully set. That’s impressive awareness.
We haven’t seen too much of the spin leading to passes yet in the NBA, but what we have seen a lot is Whitehead using it to destroy bigger defenders off the dribble. A vestige of his high-usage days in high school and college, Whitehead loves the situations when he can call his own number to make a play.
So, it’s not a surprise he roasts Toronto’s Pascal Siakam with the spin to the left, getting him a good look with his off-hand. In those iso sets with a mismatch, it’s almost impossible for the defender to stay in front of Whitehead as he’s just too fast.
Every good NBA scorer has that one signature move, that go-to they can always rely on. As Isaiah Whitehead works on developing a more consistent three-point shot — and works on getting rid of those turnover-prone tendencies from his college days — the spin will remain his move, and it’s an incredibly effective one.