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Could Hassan Whiteside lead the NBA in scoring?

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Hassan Whiteside has the potential to be on the All-NBA Defensive team and win the scoring title.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Can a center take away the NBA scoring title from either of the last two winners, Russell Westbrook or Stephen Curry? For that matter, can any center win a scoring title in the NBA next year?

In the last 44 years David Robinson and Shaquille O'Neal were the only centers to capture the scoring crown. Today's NBA players grew up believing the center's role is limited to rebounds and blocks, because that's all they saw in person.

Hassan Whiteside might change the current narrative of centers being primarily defensive weapons, because he's a unique big man who can make a jump shot. So much so, that he makes his free throw attempts as jumpers.

At 7-foot tall, with a high release point and smooth high-arching shot, he's difficult to guard when facing the basket, usually within 14 feet of the rim, by an average-sized NBA player.

Last season the leading NBA scorers shared a common trait of being the most efficient players when shooting the basketball. Curry, for example, was good for 1.49 points per attempt(P/A).

Player PTS FGM FGA FG% P/A
Stephen Curry 30.1 10.2 20.2 50.4 1.49
James Harden 29.0 8.7 19.7 43.9 1.47
Kevin Durant 28.2 9.7 19.2 50.5 1.47
DeMarcus Cousins 26.9 9.2 20.5 45.1 1.31
LeBron James 25.3 9.7 18.6 52.0 1.36
Damian Lillard 25.1 8.2 19.7 41.9 1.27
Anthony Davis 24.3 9.2 18.6 49.3 1.31
Russell Westbrook 23.5 8.2 18.1 45.4 1.30
DeMar DeRozan 23.5 7.9 17.7 44.6 1.33
Paul George 23.1 7.5 17.9 41.8 1.29

The same numbers for the Miami Heat, which include Dwyane Wade because he made the team's most attempts last season, are listed below.

Player PTS FGM FGA FG% P/A
Hassan Whiteside 14.2 5.7 9.3 60.6 1.53
Willie Reed 4.7 1.9 3.4 57.1 1.38
Chris Bosh 19.1 6.8 14.5 46.7 1.32
Derrick Williams 9.3 3.2 7.1 45.0 1.31
Tyler Johnson 8.7 3.3 6.8 48.6 1.28
Josh Richardson 6.6 2.4 5.2 45.2 1.27
James Johnson 5.0 2.0 4.2 47.5 1.19
Dwyane Wade 19.0 7.3 16.0 45.6 1.19
Goran Dragic 14.1 5.8 12.2 47.7 1.16
Luke Babbitt 7.0 2.6 6.1 42.2 1.15
Justise Winslow 6.4 2.5 5.9 42.2 1.08
Dion Waiters 9.8 3.6 9.1 39.9 1.08
Beno Udrih 4.4 1.8 4.2 43.4 1.05
Wayne Ellington 7.7 2.9 7.4 38.9 1.04
Josh McRoberts 3.6 1.3 3.5 37.2 1.03
Udonis Haslem 1.6 0.6 1.6 37.7 1.00

The league-leading scorers are all volume chuckers, i.e. they put up 17 or more attempts per game. On the Heat only Wade, Bosh and Dragic tried more than 10 on average: they have the skills to get good looks at the rim. The others find it hard to shake off their defenders.

The top three NBA scorers each netted an efficient 1.47 or more points per attempt, Whiteside beat them all with an average of 1.53. The other top marksman in Miami are Reed (1.38 P/A), Bosh (1.32 P/A), Williams (1.31 P/A), T. Johnson (1.28 P/A), and Richardson (1.27 P/A).

Other teams know who Miami's best scorers are, so their game plans include blocking passing lanes to them and/or forcing the players to dribble the ball until the shot clock runs out. Despite the challenges, elite players excel in separation, that is, they can create enough space for themselves to make a shot regardless of who is guarding them.

In the practice gyms there is always plenty of room to get off a good shot. Once in a real game though, receiving the ball in an ideal spot and getting a clean look at the basket becomes an art few in the NBA can master to any degree of success.

A closer look at Miami's stats last season shows many of the plays were set up mainly for Wade's, Bosh's and Dragic's skill set of drives to the rim for potential and-ones. However the rest of the team thrives on paint and post touches. On average they convert at almost 70% better rate on them, rather than going for catch-and-shoot touches or pull-up jumpers.

Player Drive Catch Pull-Up Paint Post Elbow eFG%
Hassan Whiteside 40.0 42.7 50.0 70.5 66.6 51.3 60.6
Willie Reed 0.0 30.0 50.0 67.4 70.0 45.5 57.1
Josh Richardson 39.1 45.8 39.3 66.7 66.7 0.0 55.0
Tyler Johnson 56.1 42.0 41.7 75.0 77.8 50.0 54.1
James Johnson 49.4 32.8 25.0 56.3 56.3 66.7 52.1
Chris Bosh 54.8 42.7 36.6 72.1 74.6 40.9 52.0
Goran Dragic 52.8 37.3 39.1 57.9 52.4 60.0 51.3
Luke Babbitt 42.7 43.1 35.1 60.0 50.0 46.7 49.8
Derrick Williams 47.3 34.5 33.9 63.4 58.6 45.7 48.8
Wayne Ellington 34.6 37.6 34.2 66.7 81.8 28.0 47.4
Beno Udrih 50.0 38.2 42.9 50.0 66.7 0.0 47.0
Dion Waiters 42.7 39.4 33.2 25.0 33.3 42.1 46.0
Dwyane Wade 50.5 43.2 34.8 58.1 58.8 47.9 45.9
Justise Winslow 33.8 30.8 29.2 59.2 56.4 36.8 45.7
Josh McRoberts 32.4 32.4 12.5 66.7 70.0 46.7 41.2
AVERAGE 41.7 38.2 35.8 61.0 62.7 40.6 50.3

Ellington's 82% FG% in post touches is insane, with Tyler at 78% not far behind. Other teams will do everything possible to prevent Miami from getting paint and post touches, while allowing the Heat to take low-percentage pull-up jumpers.

The riddle the team needs to solve isn't how to become better shooters, but getting the ball into the paint and post areas, and then mastering the craft of creating room for uncontested looks. As Paul George recounts Kobe Bryant's advice to him,

"Recently we sat down and had a talk and (Kobe) was like, 'Man, you being a big guard...I think it's important now for you to take these guys to the post and learn how to operate and how to score in the post.'  He told me that's one thing, in the playoffs, that (he) and Jordan became great at...is scoring from the block and being one-step away from the rim."

Whiteside's unfair height advantage, long wingspan and soft touch around the rim could land him a scoring title, once he perfects the ability to create space in game situations. Coach Erik Spoelstra believes this season Hassan will reveal talents few knew he had.