Hassan Whiteside is rewarding the Heat’s $98 million leap of faith
The Heat made Whiteside their top priority this summer. So far, that’s proving to be a wise decision.
For Hassan Whiteside, there are two types of teams. Ones that shy away from him, and ones that attack him.
Naturally, he enjoys playing against the latter.
“There’s teams that’s out there that say ‘Stay away from Hassan,’ and there’s teams that say, ‘We don’t care if Hassan’s down there. Attack Hassan,’” he said last season. “I love them teams that do that. God bless them coaches. I love them teams.”
Instead of re-signing Dwyane Wade over the summer, the Miami Heat made Whiteside the priority. Now in his first season as a $98 million man, he’s proved he’s worth every cent of his new contract, and then some.
A look at Whiteside’s impact in the first half of Miami’s win over Denver reveals his importance
With Whiteside on the floor, Miami was balanced on both ends. He scored 10 first-quarter points with an array of post moves, grabbed five rebounds and rejected a layup.
But when Whiteside came out, the Nuggets immediately attacked the paint. Miami’s offense looked out of sorts, scoring only two field goals in the first period with their seven-footer off the floor, and Denver jumped out to a six-point lead.
When the Heat’s centerpiece returned, however, he set the tempo on defense in the second quarter.
Oddly, on/off numbers suggest Miami is better defensively with Whiteside off the floor than on, which likely shows that they collectively elevate their team defense without Whiteside as a security blanket. The Heat give up just 97.2 points per 100 possessions when their 7’0 shot-blocker is on the bench versus 102.6 when he’s on the floor. (That trend mirrors what happened early last season, but not by the end of the year).
But Whiteside’s impact on all facets of the game — scoring, defending, and rebounding — should have Heat fans optimistic for a bright future in spite of a disappointing start to this season.
Whiteside trails only Utah’s Rudy Gobert in rim protection, holding the bold souls that challenge him to just 41.3 percent shooting at the rack. For context, opponents shoot 44.2 percent when attacking Dwight Howard, 45.2 percent when attacking DeAndre Jordan, and 48 percent when attacking Anthony Davis.
Despite his size, effort has been a question hanging over his head. Whiteside allows opponents to score 0.91 points per post-up possession, a number double that of Gobert (0.45) and significantly higher than Davis and Jordan. But he makes up for it with paint protection, holding opponents to a third-best 46.5 percent — 11.5 percent worse than what they normally shoot — inside of six feet.
He isn’t all defense, either.
Whiteside has refined his offensive attack since catching on with Miami two seasons ago. You see it in the poise he shows when attacking his man on the low block, like he did with this gorgeous post spin move around Nurkic on Wednesday.
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) December 1, 2016
And you see it in his numbers. Whiteside is averaging a career-best 17.7 points per game on nearly 56 percent shooting.
On the glass, he’s in a class of his own. Not only does he lead the NBA in rebounds (15.2 per game) and offensive boards (4.6 per game), but Whiteside’s 7.2 contested boards per game is way ahead of anyone else in the league. That stat is a testament to how well he uses his strength and length to snatch rebounds others could get their paws on.
He does have one major weakness
Despite his stat line — 17.7 points, 15.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks — a knock on Whiteside’s game is his willingness, or lack thereof, to pass.
“I’m a great passer,” he said at the beginning of the season. “I just have to show you all. Most of the time [last season] I was just the guy dunking the ball. I was giving people assists instead of giving out assists.”
His play on the front end of the season, though, has been to the contrary. Of players to average at least 30 minutes a night, Whiteside averages the fifth-fewest made passes per game (25.4), though he receives the ball a league-least 18.1 times a game. A player as dominant as he should touch the ball more often. Whiteside’s 22.4 front court touches per game are a league worst for players averaging more than 15 points. But he can be a black hole when he gets the ball.
Whiteside’s game is by no means perfect. But it’s pretty damn good
When Miami signed him to his four-year max deal, they effectively handed him the keys to the storied franchise.
He will need help. Goran Dragic aside, the Heat lack viable scoring options to make them competitive in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. Miami will also need to sign an impact free agent this summer to pair with its star center.
But in doubling down on Whiteside last summer, Miami is ready to build around its dominant center. And though the rest of the foundation is crumbling, the seven-footer makes for a sturdy base.