Hassan Whiteside wasn't the first pick in the 2010 draft, he wasn't even in the top five. In fact, the 21-year-old didn't even make the first round – let’s just say he wasn't considered a top prospect.
Fast forward six years and Whiteside isn’t worrying about whether he’ll be getting a contract or seeing garbage minutes. Instead, he’s finding a way to help guide one of biggest teams in the league to playoff success – and has a big payday on his way.
But could Whiteside become the best center in the league? There are plenty of arguments for him, that’s for sure.
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False Start for Whiteside
Whiteside’s beginnings don’t match the success he’s now found in the league. Having been drafted in the second round by the Sacramento Kings, he featured in just 19 games over his first two NBA seasons, averaging less than two points per game.
Instead of racking up alley-oop dunks and double-doubles, Whiteside was building up DNPs instead. A left knee injury wasn’t helpful, but neither was playing behind DaMarcus Cousins and Samuel Dalembert. But it wasn’t just these issues slowing down Whiteside, with numerous draft reports highlighting a stark problem with his personality which Sacramento likely didn’t take to.
Before being drafted, in one interview with an NBA head coach, when asked what he needs to improve to become a great player – he replied with ‘nothing’, quoted on the PalmBeachPost.
"Hassan Whiteside, for lack of a better word, was a jackass when he came out of college. He was delusional and would say things that were not commensurate with how great he was as a player. It turned a lot of people off. His work ethic wasn’t very good.”
After his two guaranteed years were up in Sac-town, he was waived and headed abroad to help rebuild a stuttering NBA career. He went to China, where he was a star performer. He played over 40 minutes each game and averaged a freakish 25.7ppg and 16.6rpg.
A stint in Lebanon was also a part of his basketball recovery and was key for helping him mature and grow as a person. “I just got older, man. Not too much changed. I learned a lot. I traveled the world. I’ve just seen different things in my life.” Whiteside was quoted via Complex.
“There were fun times and there were tough times.”
They helped him prepare for life back in the NBA.
Making his Way in Miami
Following his contracts in Lebanon and China, Whiteside headed back to US shores and bounced around a number of NBA D-League teams as well as the Memphis Grizzlies. However, he didn’t find a real home until he was called upon in November 2014 by the Miami Heat.
The South Beach franchise was struggling with numerous injuries after signing him, and once he was introduced to the team with significant minutes, he never let up. By January, Whiteside had already begun putting up double-double stat lines, and followed that up with his first career triple-double, within which he posted a franchise record 12 blocks.
He was back – and wasn’t going to let his opportunity disappear. Over the 2014-15 season, he ended up averaging 11.8ppg, 10rpg and 2.6bpg. It wasn’t just box scores he was filling up either, he was on the minds of journalists, analysts and fans across the world as well.
Even Whiteside himself commented on the chatter: “I feel like I’ve been underrated all my life.”
“It’s always been, 'Where did this guy come from?’ Even back in high school and when I put up the triple-doubles in college, it’s been, 'Where did this guy come from?’ And now it’s just the same story. It’s nothing new to me. Guys just need to look harder I guess.”
But whilst he was playing well, the sparks of immaturity were still visible for all to see. He was quick at building his foul count, and on-court altercations were common. Despite this, his team was more than willing to stick by his side.
“It looks like a video game deal where you create your own guy and he gets in there and just does what he does.” Chris Anderson said, via PalmBeachPost. “You can imagine what his career's gonna be like."
It even went as far as other coaches commenting on his emergence as one of the best new players in the league. Boston Celtics coach, Brad Stevens offered one of the best assessments of his abilities via Sports Illustrated.
“He is a rebounding machine, he blocks shots. You can't shoot through [him]. You have to either go around him or drive and kick it to someone else. He's too big."
He’d quickly become one of the focal points of the Miami Heat franchise. But could he become the NBA’s best center?
Could Hassan Whiteside become the best center in the NBA?
Given the current climate of the NBA, with the continued era of all-star guards pulling the strings, it’s easy to make a case for Whiteside as one of the best big men in the league.
His averages over this season have improved, now scoring 14.2ppg and rebounding at 11.8rpg. But it’s his shot blocking which is quick to draw your eye, with his league-leading 3.7bpg scores ahead the next nearest competitor.
However, whilst the blocks are impressive, his low post defence could see improvement, and offensively he’s still behind some other NBA centers.
Whilst he’s found a groove catching alley-oop passes from Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic with Miami, put him in a post-up set and he’s less likely to be a dominant offensive force. What’s more, his free throw shooting could also be improved – although it’s not as bad as some other big men.
To consider him as the best NBA center in the league today could be considered over the top, but given a few more years of tutelage, he may well develop into the league’s best big man.
However, the biggest question for him right now is getting back on the court and keeping the Heat in the playoffs. Following that, the free agency scramble that’s sure to surround him.
Only then can he maybe put the thoughts of becoming the NBA’s best back into his head. Given his emergence so far, we wouldn’t put it past him…