Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
Hassan Whiteside has had an eventful couple of years. It’s hard to believe now, but just two years ago he was struggling to make the Memphis Grizzlies as a training camp invitee. In spite of his 7’1″ frame with a 7’7″ wingspan, he didn’t make it. He was cut on Oct. 22. He spent time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Iowa Energy, and he also had another brief stint with the Giriz.
Then he signed with the Miami Heat, and his whole world changed, particularly after the calendar flipped years. On Jan. 4, 2015, he had his first double-double. From that point through the end of the season, he averaged 13.7 points, 2.9 blocks and 11.6 boards in just 27.1 minutes per game. He followed that up with 14.2/3.7/11.8 splits last year. That was enough to earn him a max contract this summer.
Whiteside is rapidly moving up in the conversation for best center in the NBA. He was second at the position in Win Shares last year and had the highest Player Efficiency Rating with more than 1,000 minutes played. With Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Chris Bosh all gone, he’ll pick up more of the offensive load. It’s not hard to imagine him springing a 20-point, 10-board, four-block season, and if he did, he’d be the only one other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon to do so. That would certainly place him in the top 10 and perhaps even higher.
For all his strengths, Whiteside has his issues, too. He can leave the rim open by over-chasing blocks. He passes like a more hesitant version of Nick Young. He has 36 assists in his career. His assist percentage is third-lowest in NBA history among players with at least 3,000 minutes. That is certainly something that needs to be worked on. He tends to seek numbers ahead of team success, and if that prevails, he will see Erik Spoelstra taking his minutes away. He needs to be more unselfish to be a starter, and if he’s not starting, how can he be All-NBA?
According to Synergy stats at NBA.com, Whiteside is an absolute beast as a roll man, scoring 1.34 points per possession (PPP), placing him in the 94.1 percentile last season. No one else even came close to him in terms of volume and efficiency on such plays.
Yet, as a post-up player he’s awful. He scored just 0.79 PPP, which placed him in the 38.2 percentile. When he didn’t have to dribble at all, his field goal percentage was 63.9 percent, per SportVU tracking data. When he bounced it once, it was 51.9 percent. When he had to bounce it more than once, it was just 44.4 percent, and furthermore, resulted in only 16 buckets.
This sort of diametric conflict defines Whiteside perfectly. He’s either extraordinarily good or just plain awful. If he can even establish something remotely resembling a post-up game with some low-post passing, he’d be the most dominant scoring center since prime Shaquille O’Neal.
The same is true with his defense. His aforementioned block numbers are positively prodigious. Within six feet of the rim, opponents shot 10.7 percentage points below their season average, per SportVU. According to Nylon Calculus, no one saved more points per game at the rim than his 2.27. Yet his myopic focus on such things diminishes the impact those numbers should suggest.
His Defensive Real Plus-Minus was just 12th at the position in 2015-16, according to ESPN.com. And his team was about the same whether he was on (101.7 defensive rating) or off (101.4) the court, per NBA.com.
Whiteside needs to translate that individual impact to a team impact to be considered a truly elite defensive player. But that shouldn’t obscure the fact that his rim protection and shot-blocking show a tremendous potential to be an absolutely dominant two-way player in the league.