Incoming transfer Jace Whiting is designated shooter for UNLV basketball (2024)

Incoming transfer Jace Whiting is designated shooter for UNLV basketball (1)

Steve Marcus

Boise State guard Jace Whiting (15) and UNLV guard EJ Harkless (55) chase after a loose ball in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game during the Mountain West tournament Thursday, March 9, 2023, in LasVegas.

By Mike Grimala (contact)

Wednesday, July 10, 2024 | 2 a.m.

Every college basketball team in the nation believes it needs more shooting. That’s just the way the game is evolving, with more emphasis than ever on creating —and making —3-pointers. When it comes to outside shooters, you can never have too many.

There are levels, however, and UNLV can safely be counted among the teams that really, really need shooting.

Last year’s squad was very 2-centric; they ranked 258th in 3-point attempts per game (20.1) and 202nd in accuracy (33.7%). While the Scarlet and Gray had a strong post game via centers Kalib Boone and Rob Whaley, the lack of 3’s made each contest an uphill battle.

Kevin Kruger went into the transfer portal looking for players who could stretch the floor, and came away with some intriguing shooters, including former Boise State guard Jace Whiting.

Whiting played two years as a reserve at Boise State and shot nearly 40% from deep; last year, he made an even 50.0%. Those are sparkling numbers for the 6-foot-2 combo guard. The question is, how much can his shooting skill help UNLV?

In watching five of his games from the 2023-24 season, it’s clear that Whiting is lethal on standstill catch-and-shoot jumpers. He rarely misses open looks, and defenses have to respect that by keeping defenders pinned close to him on the perimeter.

His mechanics and physical profile make other types of shots more difficult. It’s not a quick shot, and the release point is well in front of his body; combine that with his undersized frame (listed at 6-foot-2), and he needs a lot of space to get off unencumbered attempts.

When Whiting gets a good look, however, you should expect him to make it:

Off-the-dribble shooting is not a strength, but Whiting does appear to know how to get open and present himself to teammates. Boise State was not a ball-movement, make-the-next-pass kind of team last year, so Whiting ended up averaging only 0.9 3-point attempts in his 14.3 minutes per game. In a more egalitarian offense — or with a pointe guard like D.J. Thomas looking out for him —it’s possible he could shoot a lot more this season.

Whiting’s fit in the UNLV backcourt is going to determine how much he plays. The Scarlet and Gray need a reserve ballhandler. Thomas is ticketed for 34 minutes at point guard every night —at minimum — but the team struggled to find a decent backup last year, even for those limited minutes; a lack of capable ballhandlers left them vulnerable to full-court pressure whenever Thomas went to the bench for a minute or two.

Whiting is not a true point guard. Boise State used him at the 1 last year, and he had some of the same issues that Justin Webster had when UNLV asked him to assume ballhandling duties.

In Boise’s first matchup against San Diego State, the Aztecs pressured Whiting, and it took him eight or nine seconds to get the ball across half court, and an additional five seconds to get into the offense. Lamont Butler and Darrion Trammell made him turn his back multiple times each possession, and that really stalled Boise’s possessions; in the teams’ second matchup, Boise resorted to having their forwards bring the ball upcourt to relieve the pressure:

Granted, not every team can pressure the ball like San Diego State. Whiting was fine bringing the ball up and initiating the offense against other teams, so UNLV should be able to survive if he takes on secondary point guard duties. But when faced with a physical, aggressive defensive backcourt, Kruger will have to game plan to protect him.

In the halfcourt, Whiting showed a little more ability to work the defense.

He knows defenders have to respect his outside shot, so he uses pump fakes and effective shot feigns to get them in the air before putting the ball on the floor. He can drive close-outs, and while Whiting is not a great ballhandler by any means, he has some cleverness to his game and can sometimes catch defenders leaning into screens or get them off balance before dribbling past them.

He has good a decent eye for finding open shooters, cutters and rim runners, though he doesn’t always deliver the pass:

You probably don’t want Whiting trying to create off the dribble against a set defense, but he is capable of taking advantage of a scrambling D and making a play every now and then.

Whiting’s physical limitations may be most apparent on the defensive end. As noted above, he is generously listed at 6-foot-2, but he’s got a shorter frame and little vertical ability, so he’s at a disadvantage from the jump.

There is no explosion to his game, so there are times when he defenders simply stand him up and cut off his dribble. And even when he does get past the first line, finishing can be an adventure.

Agility is an issue, too, and that comes into play when Whiting is forced to navigate screens. On-ball picks knock tend to take him out of the play entirely, giving the ballhandler tons of separation and space to work with as they get downhill with no resistance. That forces his teammates to give hard help, leaving shooters open on the perimeter for easy kick-out 3’s.

When Whiting scrambles back to shooters, he doesn’t have the physical ability to contest those shots; in the games I watched, offensive players shot over him as though he wasn’t there:

Whiting does give max effort on defense, and he has strong hands —if a big man leaves the ball exposed, he can get in there and dig it out. But mitigating his weaknesses in the larger team defensive scheme will be paramount; Boise State was able to surround him with long, athletic defenders, and UNLV will try to do the same.

UNLV needs perimeter pop, and Whiting is someone who can come in off the bench, catch a kick-out pass and make open 3’s with the best of them. He’s also got experience doing it in the Mountain West, which has to be an added value for Kruger.

Is he ready for an expanded role beyond designated shooter? That will depend on how much improvement he has made in his game over the offseason and how UNLV plans to fold him into the system.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [emailprotected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

Incoming transfer Jace Whiting is designated shooter for UNLV basketball (2024)
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