Like Dwight: Hassan Whiteside Primed To Have An All-Star Season In Year 3
“Welp, he certainly paid homage to Dwayne,” I muttered to myself.
Not Dwyane, as in Dwyane Wade, the greatest player in HEAT franchise history.
Dwayne, as in Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock—the most electrifying man in sports entertainment.
There’s no reason I should’ve been thinking about pro wrestling during a regular season game in Feb.
I should’ve been thinking about the score; the San Antonio Spurs were up 90-80 with 9:35 left in the fourth quarter.
I should’ve been thinking about the impending comeback attempt after the second Patty Mills free throw.
Instead, I had to watch Hassan Whiteside give 7-foot-4 behemoth/Leviathan Boban Marjanovic his version of the People’s Elbow:
Whiteside was ejected, and Miami went on to lose that game. More importantly, Whiteside’s future with the HEAT seemed suddenly clear heading into the All-Star break.
He was out of there. Until he wasn’t.
Trade rumors swirled, but Whiteside made it past the trade deadline unmoved.
After serving his one-game suspension, Whiteside made his return to the HEAT with one caveat: he was now the NBA’s most overqualified sixth man, with the corpse of Amar’e Stoudemire starting ahead of him.
Whiteside quickly made the transformation from talented stat-padder to bonafide, two-way impact player seemingly overnight. It didn’t make sense, but nothing involving Whiteside makes much sense.[infogram id=”a673cd55-089a-4777-9f5f-f65907d8491a”]
Whiteside came back to (his version of) Earth during the playoffs before getting hurt.
• PPG: 12 points
• RPG: 10.9 rebounds
• BPG: 2.8 blocks
• FG%: 68.1 percent
• FT%: 59.1 percent
• TS%: 67.9 percent
• Usg%: 16.6 usage rate
But his post-February breakout made it imperative for the HEAT to keep him at any cost. The cost was $98 million dollars.
With Wade gone and HEAT forward No. 1 expected to be off the team sometime in March, the question surrounding Whiteside is a simple one: What are we to expect from Whiteside in a bigger role and possibly a—gulp—leadership position?
The early returns for “Leaderside” aren’t worth talking too much about since we’re in the preseason, but at least he sounds more mature.
On the court, I have a bit of a hot 🔥 take: Offensively, we’re about to see the reincarnation of Dwight Howard.
I’ll give you some time to stop crying.
/cue the music
Now that all hearts, minds, and eyes are clear, let me explain.
Though this is technically Whiteside’s fourth season in the NBA, last season was really his second as a full-time rotation player. In that context, let’s look at Whiteside’s “second” season compared to Howard’s:[infogram id=”4d268205-c66f-4465-b753-5e0eb8e581f9″]
Pretty close, right? To save you some time: Yes, Whiteside’s per-36 numbers are noticeably better, though you can check them out for yourself right here. That isn’t what interests me, though.
Check out the post-All-Star break numbers between the two in their respective second seasons:[infogram id=”1a4ee641-b6f6-4cb3-bbfc-b6a019cf1c65″]
Again, pretty close. For what it’s worth, it should be noted that Whiteside was on a better team that also played much faster—95.75 possessions per 48 minutes for Miami compared to 90.65 possessions per 48 minutes for Orlando—than Howard’s.
It’s hard not to see the similarities with Howard and Whiteside offensively. They’re both athletic beasts that are best utilized on the move. Using their “second” seasons again, here are their numbers as the pick-and-roll big man, as a cutter and as a finisher in transition via Synergy:[infogram id=”ab133733-5cf1-4c83-8c79-f0fde88c440e”]
Here are a couple of quick examples of young Howard getting busy on the move:
Here’s Whiteside bustin’ in in transition:
Here’s a great video from SB Nation‘s Drew Garrison detailing Whiteside’s ability in pick-and-roll situations. His 7-foot-7 wingspan makes it harder to throw a bad pass than a good one:
The two also have rather questionable post games, but for different reasons. Regardless, here are the numbers for both:[infogram id=”354f0abc-5e04-46df-b9a3-0638bfd0b271″]
Giving Whiteside the occasional low post touch shouldn’t be an issue, though. He has solid touch and finishes through contact with the best of ’em. The two keys to Whiteside—or any big, really—being successful on the block are establishing deep position, and being decisive.
Whiteside was being guarded by Frank “Chosen-Before-Winslow” Kaminsky here, so that may take away some of the appeal here. However, Whiteside did a solid job of getting good positioning and sealing, then quickly getting to his righty hook.
Cashing in quick hooks like that can earn him more touches down low instead of being strictly used as a roll-man. We’ve seen evidence of this in the preseason so far:
Because of Whiteside’s insane length and solid touch, he can occasionally knock down hooks without getting deep in the paint, but it isn’t ideal:
Here’s his hook shot breakdown from last season, courtesy of Basketball-Reference:[infogram id=”2fba0cb8-51c7-4bec-9c58-934788b0ccff”]
Whiteside doesn’t seem to have the core strength that’ll allow him to jog up court and bully his way into a preferable spot like an Al Jefferson or DeMarcus Cousins. Though he isn’t as quick as young Howard, he’s plenty fast for his size. It’s why it’s imperative for the HEAT to play with pace and get Whiteside moving.
It also helps that Miami has more shooting to surround Whiteside with, which should make it harder for teams to deal with him in the pick-and-roll, and give Whiteside more room to work down low when he seals.
So far in the preseason, Miami has a pace of 101.56, nearly six possessions per 48 minutes faster than their regular season pace last season (95.75). That, plus the improved shooting (56.5 true shooting percentage this preseason, 54.5 percent last season) has certainly helped Whiteside.
He’s averaging 17.5 points while shooting 69.8 percent from the floor (30-for-43), while also racking up 12 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a night. He has not missed a shot inside of five feet (21-f0r-21), with 11 of his makes coming in the form of a dunk.
Solely using preseason stats as a future predictor is flawed for obvious reasons. However, when you look at those, combined with his post-All-Star break and playoff numbers, we have a 42-game sample size to look at.
They happen to be pretty similar to what Howard put up in his third season—with more minutes.[infogram id=”cb3d62f6-9052-4e43-957b-3fd1c843a8f3″]
Howard earned his first All-Star game selection that year. If Whiteside puts up similar or better numbers, which seems likely barring injury or unexpected regression, there’s plenty of reason to believe he can accomplish the same feat this season.