Miami Heat and GM Pat Riley Should Look on the Whiteside of Life

ROBERT DUYOS - USA TODAY SPORTS

By: Chad Berman and Alex Pacione

Welcome to Part 3 of the Berman/Pacione/Molicki 2016 summer free-agent series ménage-á-trois. The third player we’re going to profile is Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside. Check out our Harrison Barnes article here and Chris’ Mike Conley article here.

Whiteside is an absurdly athletic 27-year-old 7-footer with an insane 7’7” wingspan who put up some seriously eye-popping numbers last season. With the Heat, he averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and an insane 3.7 blocks in only 29.1 minutes of action per game. Whiteside shot 60.6% from the field and finished with a phenomenal 25.69 PER. Additionally, he ranked first in the league in contested shots per 100 possessions with a staggering 30.9 per 100. He’s now entering free agency and is looking for a max deal, which would most likely amount to a four-year, $94.1 million contract.

Now, 7-footers don’t exactly grow on trees, especially not in the mold of Hassan Whiteside. In fact, in America, if you’re 7-feet tall and between the ages of 20 and 40, congratulations! You have a 17% chance of playing in the NBA. To put those unbelievable odds in perspective, 7-footers have a greater chance of playing professional ball than they (or anyone else for that matter) do being born left-handed (a measly 10% chance).    

Whiteside himself almost missed out on that opportunity: early in his career, he was riddled with injuries and bounced around playing ball in the D-League and on international squads. He technically played for the Sacramento Kings from 2010-2012, but only in 19 total games. Midway through the 2014-15 season, however, the Heat took a chance on “Count Blockula” (Yes, he actually calls himself that), and it paid off enormously. In his first real season, he was a revelation, averaging 11.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks in 23.8 minutes per game.

Even with the NBA transitioning to smaller lineups, the value of an athletic big man is still alive and well. Just take a look at how integral Tristan Thompson, Steven Adams, and Bismack Biyombo were during this year’s playoffs. They made a monumental impact for their respective teams, providing much needed energy and interior defense and perpetually causing mismatches while on the floor (when Adams wasn’t being kicked in the biscuits, of course).

But the million-dollar question remains—is Whiteside actually worth a max deal? We’d say that unlike in the case of Harrison Barnes, this one is a no-brainer. Rim-protecting big men with Whiteside’s brand of athleticism and freakish limbs are incredibly hard to come by, and he’s just entering his prime.

However, even though he’s 27, his lack of experience at the pro level manifests itself at times. Whiteside needs to become a better student of the game, as he sometimes has lapses in judgment on the defensive end, personified by this play. He tends to get caught out of position, occasionally struggling with the nuances of NBA coverages, but that should improve with more experience—he’s essentially going into only his third year in the league. Another potential red flag could be his volatile temper, but it noticeably improved as this past season progressed. Plus, it can’t be any worse than Draymond Green’s unusual proclivity for junk-kicking.

Another glaring improvement that Whiteside made during the 2015-16 regular season was his free-throw shooting. Before the All-Star break, he shot a woeful 55.2% from the charity stripe. After the break, however, he improved to 75% by recalling the cornerstone of 5th-grade basketball leagues, the “Jump Throw,” which increased his final season percentage to 65%, the highest average of his career. Is it an embarrassing technique? Thoroughly. Will other players undoubtedly trash talk him because of it? Even Tim Duncan might. The “jump throw” might not even catch on like such seminal sports innovations as this Jayson Werth Chia Pet or the Pro Toast Elite, but it seems to be working for Whiteside. Free throws haven’t been this fun since Shaquille O’Neal, so we support any player trying to make free throws great again.

Furthermore, while Whiteside started the season as a one-dimensional player, after Chris Bosh went down, he was more aggressive and started to show development on the offensive end. In addition to experimenting with more hook shots and post-ups, his “jump throw” gave him the confidence to step out and develop a mid-range game. After the All-Star break, Whiteside shot almost 46% (45.9) from 16-24 feet, a great number for a big man. As such, he will likely have a plethora of suitors this offseason, including the Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Dallas Mavericks.

In order for the Heat to remain strong playoff contenders, they need to make a push to re-sign Whiteside. Heat president Pat Riley has said that signing Whiteside will be his top priority this offseason, but it appears Miami may also try its hand at the Kevin Durant sweepstakes.

Furthermore, the Heat need to re-sign Dwyane Wade, who will likely structure a deal to give the Heat more wiggle room in free agency. Talks between Wade and the Heat have reportedly already started off slowly, but even if Wade restructures a deal, it’s highly unlikely that the Heat will be able to both keep Whiteside and sign Durant. While signing Durant is not very likely at this point, the Heat can still make a strong pitch to Whiteside, as they can give him the most money, there’s no sales tax in Florida, and Miami is, well, Miami.

However, if a more depraved and hedonistic well of affluence than Miami exists, it’s definitely Hollywood. In addition to the Heat, the Lakers have a strong case to make to Whiteside with their talented young core: guards D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, and forwards Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle. Los Angeles’ foremost need this offseason is rim protection, a dearth Whiteside would more than remedy. His presence down low would also free up space for Russell and Ingram and take some of the rebounding burden off of Randle.

If the Heat don’t offer Whiteside a max deal, he may explore other options, and LA would be a good fit as a team in dire need of a starting center.

So how do the Mavericks fit into all this hubbub?

Team owner Mark Cuban followed Whiteside on Twitter!

Yes, this happened, and yes, it lamentably caused a typically foolish Internet message-board brouhaha. Such is the sensationalist world we live in.

After striking out with Clippers center DeAndre Jordan prior to last season, it looks like Cuban is ready to make another run at a freakishly athletic big man. Cuban will attempt to make an even better pitch than the guys who gave man-birth to “Dude Wipes” on the TV show Shark Tank (and yes, Cuban actually invested in the flushable product, which is essentially a for dudes, by dudes Preparation-H wipe.)

Whiteside would be the No. 1 option for the Mavs, who would mold their offense around his ample talents, ensuring he gets at least 15-20 field-goal attempts per game. Whiteside would also be a great fit next to Dirk Nowitzki, who would be much better off as the No. 2 option at this point in the twilight of his illustrious career. It’s not that far out of the realm of possibility that the very convincing Cuban swoops in and works his magic.

In fact, both the Mavericks and Lakers should feel relatively sanguine about their chances of landing the big man, as Whiteside recently made it known that the best situation, not loyalty, will guide his decision-making throughout free agency.

While our collective guts tell us that Whiteside will stay in Miami, should Riley decide that the Heat have a real shot at landing Durant, he could irritate Whiteside by not negotiating with him right away or by asking him to take less money. The longer the Heat wait to sign Whiteside, the better the chances are for other teams to do so. If that ends up being the case, the Lakers, Mavericks, or even a team like the Boston Celtics could make a stronger pitch to Whiteside sooner and possibly steal him away.

 

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