Newfound depth translates to better defense for Heat
The dark horse Defensive Player of The Year (DPOY) candidate for Miami didn’t start his campaign on a good note. Hassan Whiteside struggled in his first career action against Charlotte Hornet’s Al Jefferson.
The 26-year old center never had a chance to see Jefferson last season, who was inactive during Whiteside’s only other contest against the Hornets.
Early on, Whiteside conceded positioning stances to Jefferson. Against most centers, Whiteside’s length would make up for his lack of position, but Jefferson made Whiteside pay with swift footwork and easy finishes around the basket.
Midway through the first quarter, Whiteside hit the bench and would not return till later in the second period.
But the second half was a different story. Jefferson, who had 17 points in the first half, was held scoreless in the second half by the defensive combination of Whiteside and longtime Heat forward Udonis Haslem. Whiteside altered several shots and Haslem added some much-needed energy of the bench.
This, after hearing all over sports talk radio throughout the week, that Haslem would be a non-factor all season. Well, that “non-factor” played 11 tough minutes at center against one of the best scoring big men in the league. Meanwhile, Chris Anderson didn’t see the floor all night — and still hasn’t this season.
Having Chris Bosh back from a pulmonary embolism makes things so much easier for the Heat defensively. Bosh’s length allows him to show on high picks and his athleticism lets him recover towards the basket. Bosh’s 20 points and 10 boards are pretty good for a guy whose career was in question 10 months ago.
Rookie Justise Winslow also blanketed whoever he was on all night. His ability to guard all five positions on the floor lets him stay in the game for long stretches.
If you’re a box score watcher, Winslow’s five points and seven rebounds won’t impress you. But look a few columns to the right on the box score and you see the Heat was +26 with Winslow on the floor.
To put that into perspective, Chris Bosh (+11) was the only other player in double figures.
The Heat rotated well when the ball was moved along the perimeter, which didn’t leave a lot open beyond the three-point line. Charlotte shot just 6 of 24 from there. And if this continues, the Heat will be tough to beat when they can both defend and shoot well from outside.
What we’ve seen so far during the closing stretches of Week 1 of the NBA season is a team with an ability to become solid defensively. That will be crucial moving forward as the offense tries to sort out its kinks with so many new roles and lineups on the offensive floor.