It will take the village to help the Miami Heat get the most out of their dominate young center, Hassan Whiteside.
Hassan Whiteside has been one of the more potent contributors for the Miami Heat over the course of the past two seasons. At 27 years of age, he’s primed to be one of the better players at the center position for years to come, and his lucrative $98 million deal awarded this off-season exhibits just how much faith the Heat organization has invested in the young man.
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Statistically, the NBA hasn’t seen a big man accumulate as many blocked shots per game as Whiteside in over a decade. Just this past season, he posted career-highs in points (14.2), rebounds (11.8) and blocks (3.7) while shooting 65 percent from the field.
Now the shot-blocking maestro faces the biggest test of his young career: will he live up to those stat and fiscal figures? Can he be a reliable No. 1 or 2 option? There are questions on this team, and it’s up to Erik Spoelstra and Co. to pick up the pieces following Dwyane Wade’s departure.
With a completely revamped roster, it’s going to be tough for the Heat to compete in the East without a big step up from Whiteside, especially if Chris Bosh is still unable to go with ongoing blood clot issues.
Heading into the 2016-17 season predominantly young, the pressure is now on the Heat to put Whiteside in a position to succeed for perhaps the next four years, possibly (hopefully) more. Just how can they do that?
Apr 12, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) is defended by Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) during the first quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
While Whiteside flashes a smooth jump hook and drop step every now and then, he has barely sniffed his potential on the offensive end. Whiteside averaged 7.0 post touches per game last season, fifth most in the NBA. His 66 percent conversion rate was strong, but lagged behind better post-up threats like Anthony Davis, Jonas Valanciunas, Al Horford and Dwight Howard.
Part of the problem is that he can be susceptible to forcing shots. He’s a reluctant passer, passing the ball out of the post less (just 9.2 percent of the time) than any other player averaging 4.5 post touches per game last season, per NBA.com.
Getting his teammates involved will be key as this team builds around him. But the Heat also need to be able to feed Whiteside in the post. Last season, Dwyane Wade assisted Whiteside a team-high 92 times in the post. The next closest was Goran Dragic, just 65 times. Not only will Dragic and Whiteside have to get on the same page, but also young players like Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson need to help re-create the chemistry Wade and Whiteside shared.
With post technician Juwan Howard on the coaching staff and Alonzo Mourning available at the drop of a dime, Whiteside has some amazing resources available to him. Did I mention Hakeem Olajuwon has helped the likes of LeBron James develop a back-to-the-basket game, and has willingly worked with Dwight Howard in the past? It couldn’t hurt to give him a call.
Whiteside should be entering his physical prime very soon, and if you’re the Heat organization and coaching staff, you do not let that go to waste. This isn’t Miami’s first go-around with dominant big men. Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning are South Beach legends. The Heat under Pat Riley understand how to build around a strong pivot.
Apr 10, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) reacts after Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) blocks his shot during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Center of the defense
There’s no question that, when engaged, Whiteside’s rim protection is second-to-none. He finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting, and it seems that he’s going to get quite a few more cracks at the title in the future.
However, to do just that, it will require Whiteside to hone his talent on that end. To be a dominant defender, one can not just swat shots away and expect to claim that title. Many times last season, we saw Whiteside struggle to stay with players outside of the paint, something he himself even acknowledged, via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
“I can’t come into the game trying to be one of the best defenders in the NBA and not being able to guard a guard,” he said. “I never felt like I was one of those 7-footers where I get on the perimeter and I just fall over. I feel like I can stay in front of a lot of guys.”
Even head coach Erik Spoelstra volunteered to assist Whiteside, hosting several practice sessions throughout the season focused on helping the young center with such alignments.
To best help the team as a dominant shot-blocker, guards and forwards defending on the perimeter need just force their assignment inside, run them off the three-point line and make them drive in to the heart of the paint and let Whiteside clean up the rest.
There were instances during in both the last two seasons when Whiteside’s character and maturity came into question. Physical confrontations paired alongside lack of focus at certain times plagued him, and that led to him missing a game each year due to suspension.
Examining strictly talent, there’s no reason to think Whiteside isn’t capable of taking that next step, becoming more potent on the offensive end. His scoring averages from his first year in Miami jumped by nearly three points and he managed to grab nearly two more rebounds per game last season. Maintaining a strong focus will help him continue to develop.
The talent is undeniable, but losing a locker room leader like Wade and possibly Bosh means others need to step up and take Whiteside under their wing. This is where the tough love of Udonis Haslem comes in.
Apr 5, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) reacts during the second half of Tuesday night
Now a multi-millionaire, the young man is set financially, and it seems he’s found a place to settle down after purchasing a $7.3 million mansion on the beach just last week. The tools are all there, we just have to wait and see if and how much they will be used.
Much like they did during the Big Three era, the Heat coaching staff found a way to adapt and change their style to best fit the personal the team had assembled.
For Miami to maximize Whiteside’s potential, it’s key that Erik Spoelstra keep on him, force him to maximize his potential as an all-around defender and post-scorer. Both seem to be lost arts by bigs in today’s NBA, and Whiteside dominating near the rim could give the Heat a mismatch advantage to hang their hat on.
Overall, if Spoelstra and staff stick to what they’ve been doing and poke his chest a little bit harder, there’s nothing that says Whiteside wouldn’t make a good first or second option on offense while leading a top defense.