Hassan Whiteside was a second round pick in the 2010 Draft who played 19 nondescript games over the first four years of his career and bounced around from Sacramento to the D-League by way of Memphis, Lebanon and China.
Now, he is breaking out as the Miami Heat’s back-up center and quickly becoming one of my favorite players in the league.
Over Miami’s last four games, he has put up 14.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.0 blocks and 77.1% shooting in 24.0 minutes off the bench. Not coincidentally, the Heat have won three of the four.
What exactly is going on?
Quite simply, they are a completely different team with him on the floor.
He is the rare legitimate seven-footer who can catch and finish. He is long, active and athletic.
He is a beast defensively, where he uses his athleticism and ridiculously long arms to challenge, change, and fly-swat unwelcome shots:
He is a defensive highlight waiting to happen. At Indiana he got comfortably above the square on the backboard to block George Hill’s attempt:
Late in the fourth quarter at Staples Center last night, he switched on to Kobe Bryant on the perimeter and exploded to block his 20-foot jumper:
A few plays later, he stayed with Kobe off the dribble and forced a bricked layup at the rim:
Impressive stuff. Prime Dwight Howard-level stuff, to be exact.
The stats back up the eye test: per NBA.com, he has held opponents to 29-of-66 shooting (43.9%) at the rim in his 14 games so far this season – fourth among all centers behind Rudy Gobert (37.9%), Roy Hibbert (41.0%) and Andrew Bogut (41.2%).
Opponent shooting at the rim is one of the most important stats in basketball – a few percentage points is the difference between being the anchor of an elite defense or a below-average one. And whilst it is not the largest individual sample size, he is clearly a decidedly better rim deterrent than Anthony Davis (50.0%), Marc Gasol (50.0%), Andre Drummond (49.2%) and DeAndre Jordan (48.8%) have been this season.
Per Basketball-Reference.com, the Heat hold opponents to 95 points per 100 possessions when Whiteside is on the floor, which would rank as more stingy than even the Golden State Warriors’ league-leading defense.
Make no mistake, though: Whiteside is also proving useful when his team has the ball. He is a solid screener, appears to have a great sense for when to cut to the basket and is adept at catching and finishing at the rim.
Here he corrals a bullet of a Chris Bosh behind-the-back pass with one hand and deposits it with Shaq-like authority:
One of Erik Spoelstra’s preferred offensive sets is the classic “Horns” play, where the two big men station themselves at the top of the key and one sets a pick for the ball handler.
Whiteside has been Tyson Chandler-esque at screening, rolling, catching and dunking out of this play:
His ability to extend and finish is truly breath-taking:
He also has a nice touch on short jump hooks and layups:
He knows where his bread is buttered. 44 of his 61 field goal attempts as a member of the Heat have come within four feet of the hoop and, per NBA.com, he is shooting 80% on those 44 shots.
Whiteside is also gobbling up rebounds at an elite pace on both ends. During Sunday’s win at the Clippers, he repeatedly outhustled DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin on the glass, snatching 16 boards to their combined 12.
“Where did this guy come from?,” asked legendary Clippers announcer Ralph Lawler, as DeAndre looked on is dismay at a player who is already better at doing the exact things that have earned him a $10 million-a-year contract:
Whiteside is currently grabbing 25.2% of the available rebounds whilst he is on the court. Only nine times in NBA history have we seen a rebound rate of 25% or higher for a season, and Dennis Rodman was responsible for six of those times.
Comparisons for Whiteside are difficult to make at this early stage in his life as a relevant NBA player, but over the past week he has reminded me of a young Marcus Camby in the ’99 playoffs – too long and athletic for opponents to contend with when he enters the game off the bench – but with a bigger frame. He has also been reminscent of a young Andrew Bynum in ’08, before the injuries hit and he stopped caring about basketball.
Of course, any time an obscure player’s stats take a dramatic leap these days it reminds us of Linsanity – the 11-game stretch of New York madness three years ago in which Jeremy Lin put up 23.9 points and 9.2 assists per game for the Knicks. Lin was a minus defender and below-average athlete who was making the most of a temporarily absurdly high usage rate, though.
Hassanity, as I am dubbing it, or Hassan-sanity if you prefer, strikes me as far less fluky, far more sustainable – and more fun to watch.
There is something completely pure about Whiteside’s style of play. He plays with an infectious enthusiasm but stays in his lane. He does not require touches or shot attempts, and he consistently makes life easier for his teammates by screening and cutting hard on offense, and covering their mistakes on defense.
Unquestionably, he is not yet the finished product – for one, he is just a 46.9% free throw shooter – but the strengths he is already showing are fully transferable to teams across the league and will not be negated by extra scouting. The scoring output may not remain this high for him, but that is beside the point: he is the rare player who can impact the game dramatically without ever having a post-up play run for him.
The Heat, who signed Whiteside to a non-guaranteed contract at the end of November, have uncovered a gem – a credit to Pat Riley and the front office. Ironically, he is exactly the kind of player they could have done with during the Heatles era. Indeed, they ranked 20th in the league in blocked shots and dead last in offensive rebounds as a team last season. His dirty work allows Chris Bosh to focus on being Chris Bosh, and could have swung this season’s title their way if LeBron James had not bolted in free agency.
Rim protectors who can catch and finish on offense are the most valued of NBA commodities. Indeed, LeBron’s Cavs just expended two first round picks to acquire Timofey Mozgov, who has never in his life put up a four-game stretch as impressive as the one Whiteside is on now, and is holding opponents to 49.3% shooting at the rim, significantly less impressive than Hassan’s 43.9% mark.
With each opponent shot altered at the rim, Whiteside is adding countless dollars to his next contract. The Heat will need to splurge to keep him in Miami this summer, but they will be dollars well spent. Long may Hassanity continue.