• Kyle Russell

Mythbusters Series: Hassan Whiteside is a Terrible Player


NBA.com

Off the Glass’ Mytbusters Series was designed to put an end to mistaken common beliefs in the NBA community. Today, let’s look into how Miami’s Hassan Whiteside has been unfairly criticized the past few seasons.

The Miami Heat have been rather uncompetitive in the past few seasons, and the blame often falls on the team’s lone star Hassan Whiteside. Even dedicated Heat fans often suggest that Whiteside is a “terrible player.”

The truth, however, is that Whiteside isn’t a bad player. Instead, he’s a good player on a “terrible” contract. To understand this better, we have to revisit the 2016 off-season.

Whiteside was a gem Miami during the 2015-16 campaign. Emerging from stints overseas and in the then D-league, Count Blockula emerged as a force in the NBA. He finished the year leading the league in blocks per game and was third for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Whiteside exploded onto the scene right when the NBA salary cap was rapidly increasing. The Heat offered Whiteside a four-year, $98 million contract that summer.

It wasn’t just the financial landscape that was changing in the Association. The Golden State Warriors were changing NBA basketball, fully ushering in the pace and space era. Suddenly slow-footed 7-foot rim protectors like Whiteside became liabilities.

In the seasons that followed, Whiteside’s advantages on the court became irrelevant. Likewise, his s offensive skill-set plateaued. Soon Miami’s signing off a rising star went from solid investment to an albatross contract. As is the case with overpaid players, the criticism followed to the point that many looked down on Whiteside as a bad player.

Now, it’s worth mentioning some of the holes in Whiteside’s game. Most of his offensive skill-set revolves around outdated and inefficient post play, and an unreliable midrange jumper. He’s always been a below-average free throw shooter, and no season with the Heat has exemplified that more than this one. He can be immature at times as well. He seems to mentally checks out of games if things aren’t going his way or he gets benched.

I think it’s fair to say Whiteside has not lived up to his massive contract. However the myth that he is a terrible player is worth exploring. There are still numerous reasons why he got that contract in the first place and is a good NBA player deserving of his minutes on the court.

The first and greatest strength of Whiteside is his rebounding. Per Basketball Reference, he’s always averaged double-digit rebounds per game as a member of the Heat, leading the league in rebounding during the 2016-2017 regular season.

His rebounding isn’t limited to the defensive end. Whiteside has averaged over three offensive rebounds per game in that same time, leading to nearly four second-chance points per game for Miami.

Another strength of Whiteside’s game is his ability to defend the rim. For most of the history of the NBA, rim protection was the most important defensive skill. While the current era favors defending in space, there is still value in being a rim protector. This is especially true in a Conference with players like Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

USA Today

One of the clearest indicators for rim protection is blocks per game, which Whiteside has also dominated since joining the Heat. He’s finished every season in the top-10 in BPG and led the league with 3.7 per contest in 2015-2016. Beyond blocks, he’s altered countless shots with his tall frame and huge wingspan.

Whiteside has previously had issues with the way he was used by Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. As recently as last year Whiteside seemed ready for a change of scenery, telling the media that, “a lot of teams could use a center.” This season has been much smoother, and Whiteside’s aforementioned lack of maturity may be in the rearview. This year he appears to better understand his role and has played with good energy and hustle throughout the season. After a history of clashing with his teammates over setting screens, he’s finally setting hard screens to free up his teammates in the pick and roll.

Once a black hole on offense where the ball would stick, Whiteside has been better at passing out of bad matchups or to open shooters and cutters, averaging an assist per game in his last two seasons. Spoelstra has even begun using Whiteside in dribble hand-off sets, showing more trust in his big man to make the right call.

Whiteside has been running the floor with urgency on both ends of the court, rolling hard to the basket, and playing stellar defense. He’s been far from a “terrible player,” especially this season.

In all these situations, what held Whiteside back weren’t talent or skill, but simply approach and mentality. By fixing these and focusing on his strengths in rebounding and rim protection, he’s elevated his game, fit more into the role of a modern center, and had a more positive impact on the Miami Heat this season. I’ll certainly agree he’s overpaid for what he contributes, but by no means is he a bad player that doesn’t deserve playing time.

#NBA #Heat #KyleRussell #MythbustersSeries