Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside was supposed to be the cornerstone of the team for years to come. Instead, he’s become one of the NBA’s biggest disappointments.
Hassan Whiteside was supposed to be one of the better big men in the NBA right now. Instead, he’s become one of the league’s biggest disappointments.
Looking at his stats over the past three seasons, and it sure doesn’t seem that way. Whiteside has put up some solid numbers since breaking through in Miami — 14.5 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game over five seasons — but more often than not, has seemed to be one of the biggest reasons the Heat are stuck.
It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.
To understand why Whiteside is one of the biggest disappointments in the NBA, we have to take a look at his history and how he arrived at this point.
After becoming a star at The Patterson School in Lenoir, North Carolina, he went to play one season at Marshall University; and man, what a season it was. On Dec. 28, 2009, in a 60-53 win over the Ohio University Bobcats, Whiteside dominated, scoring 14 points, snagging 17 rebounds, and swatting away nine shots in just 29 minutes. It was astounding and, along with an ESPN The Magazine profiled that month helped raise his profile to a national level. Sending shots back into the faces of opponents became his signature and by the end of the 2009-10 season he led the nation in blocked shots (182) and broke a team, Conference USA, and national record for blocks in a season by a freshman, passing Shawn Bradley’s record by five blocks.
After his freshman year, Whiteside decided he was ready to take his rim-protecting prowess to the NBA, and he was drafted with the 33rd pick by the Sacramento Kings. However, he was raw and spent time with the Kings D-League team, the Reno Bighorns. An injury followed and Whiteside had surgery on a partially torn tendon in his left knee, losing the rest of the year. During his two years in Sacramento, Whiteside saw the court only 19 times, and with the arrival of DeMarcus Cousins, who was the Kings fifth pick in 2010, he no longer had a place with the team and was waived.
Whiteside spent two years bouncing around the D-League and playing overseas, winning a D-League title with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (super cool name) in 2013, and winning an NBL (China’s pro basketball league) championship with the Sichuan Blue Whales. In 2014, Whiteside was ready for another shot in the NBA, and many teams were taking a second look at the young center. He inked a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, but he didn’t see a minute of court time in Grind City. He was waved before the 2014-15 season tipped off.
Luckily for Whiteside, the Miami Heat were in the market for a center. The 2014-15 edition of the Heat was influx. LeBron James decided to return to Cleveland, and Pat Riley, who didn’t want to sink the team into a rebuild, decided to bring Chris Bosh back on a generous deal. It was supposed to tide Miami over until Riley acquired another superstar to lift the Heat back to contender status.
But Bosh would miss most of that season with blood clot issues. The Heat recalled Whiteside from the D-League, and he became an instant jolt for Miami. He recorded his first double-double in a win over the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 4 2015 (11 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks), and a week later registered his first triple-double (14 points, 13 rebounds, 12 blocks) in a victory over the Chicago Bulls. Almost overnight, he was suddenly looking like one of the next best big men in the NBA.
Whiteside would finish the 2014-15 season fourth in voting for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award, and the next season, 2015-16, he upped his game, averaging 14. 2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and swatting 3.7 shots a game.
Mind you, he only started 43 games that season, and still, put up those numbers. While his offense really didn’t impress, his interior defense was something special. Opponents feared to attack to the rim against Whiteside, and his play helped Miami to a surprising 48-win season and the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. Whiteside had matured into his game, and it really seemed that he was ready to establish himself as one of the best bigs in the league.
After the playoffs, Whiteside became a free agent, and he was due for a huge payday. Riley had, once again, struck out on landing a big superstar in free agency, and that same summer, the face of the franchise, Dwyane Wade, decided to take his talents to the Chicago Bulls. With his Hall of Fame player gone, and teams aiming at Whiteside, Riley signed him to that four-year, $98 million max contract.
While he did put up career numbers in points (17.0) and rebounds (14.1) in the 2016-17 season, his overall impact on the court suffered. The team around him wasn’t that good, and Whiteside’s intensity began to fade. Last season, Whiteside completely regressed, with career-lows in every major category except assists, and while Miami did make the playoffs, Whiteside was a non-factor against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, who took the series in five games.
At this point, it’s safe to say that Whiteside is not the player that the Heat hoped he would become, and what they paid him to be. His sudden emergence and convergence of factors that summer, unfairly raised expectations and landed him a contract that he’ll continue to struggle to live up to. Things seem to have hit rock bottom in his relationship with Spoelstra and the team but that contract makes him an incredibly difficult trade piece to move.
Whiteside was never meant to be a franchise player, but, he was thrust into the role because he was the best talent the Heat had on their roster. The legacy of this player and this team will almost certainly be an inability to ever land themselves on the same page.