The Outlook With the roster shake up that took place this summer, the Miami Heat made one thing clear. They intend to move forward with Hassan Whiteside as a franchise centerpiece. With other teams pining for the free agent big man's services once the calendar turned to July, the Heat immediately opted to lock up Whiteside for the next four seasons.
Amar'e Stoudemire, who started 36 games at center last season, retired (from the NBA) and in his place. Miami went to sign Willie Reed, a talented young center who's been on their camp radar for a while now.
The Players Whiteside and Reed are the "true centers" on this iteration of the Heat roster, but Miami has a handful of players who could slide to the five spot if need be.
Franchise stalwart Udonis Haslem is still listed as forward, but spends most of his minutes at center as it better suits his defensive strengths and keeps him away from stretchy perimeter fours that are abundant in the league.
Josh McRoberts spent most of his 2015-2016 season as a playmaking four, but once Whiteside was lost to injury in the postseason, McRoberts became the backup center, scoring 10 points in each of his last two games of the year at that position. It seemed this lessened the playmaking instincts hardwired into his brain and allowed him to focus more as a finisher of plays, something McRoberts has been good at in the past, but hasn't been able to show much in Miami due to injuries.
The Starter Hassan Whiteside is your man for the next few years. There's no need to recap his meteoric ascent, but the skinny is he averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and a league-leading 3.7 blocks per game last season. He earned All NBA-Defensive 2nd Team honors for his efforts.
The question is, can Whiteside improve further? And can these improvements go beyond the counting statistics? Whiteside's shot-blocking numbers were enormous, but there have been (warranted) rumblings about his actual defensive impact in relation to the team concept. He made strides as the season went along in terms of defending the pick-and-roll and not chasing blocks that put him in bad rebounding position, but now that he's one of the franchise's cornerstones, can he rededicate himself towards the intangibles and become a truly fearsome defensive force?
Offensively is where Whiteside, believe it or not, could have an even greater value. While his post game took a dip in efficiency last year - consider that he shot 55-126 on hook shots last year vs. 34-56 on hook shots in his abbreviated 2014-2015 - he showed a developing midrange jumper (a solid 41.2% last year), an unprecedented midseason improvement from the foul line, and most importantly, proved that he's a pterodactyl with some of his highlight-reel jams.
Whiteside's ability to finish lob plays is rivaled by only DeAndre Jordan in today's NBA, and his vertical spacing from those dives and rim runs opens the floor up for everyone else. The Heat's offense should feature plenty of this in the future, and rolling should be the way Whiteside generates many of his buckets. The question is who's going to be doing the lobbing? With Dwyane Wade's departure the onus falls on Goran Dragic. Dragic and Whiteside struggled to get a feel for one another on the pick-and-roll early in the year, but as the season went along, Whiteside learned how Dragic liked his screen set and we got a handful of impressive hook ups from this duo.
The Help While I expect Whiteside to shatter his minutes per game average, Reed may still play an important role as an energetic backup big. Reed made his NBA debut with the Brooklyn Nets last season and averaged a double-double per 36 minutes in 39 played games. Reed offers a lot of what Whiteside does in terms of lobs, blocks and a rebounding presence, but doesn't boast the quite otherworldly measurements of Whiteside.
Nonetheless, he's still quite an athlete.
Reed still needs to learn the nuances of sound NBA defense; he's been in the D-League far longer than he's been in The Association. With proper coaching and minutes, he'll pick up on it, but for those moments where Reed is still a bit too green for the moment, expect Udonis Haslem to continue to man the middle as a specialist of sorts to keep him fresh.
The Grade - B
This might be the most variable position for the Heat even though it largely hinges on one player. Whiteside could make the sort of strides that lead to All-Star berths and the offseason honors that he and the team lobbied for this past year, but he'll have to prove the team right in investing their future in him and not rest on his laurels. The offense and defense are both expected to be more centered around him and while I expect the statistics to rise, the hope is that many of the underlying numbers paint a clearer picture than the murky one depicted much of last year.
Whiteside's on/off numbers went up in the second half of the past season not merely because he was scoring and rebounding more, but because his blocks per game actually went down (from 3.9 to 3.3 pre to post-break)and in it's place came sounder positioning and more disciplined technique. This has to continue this season. I'm convinced Whiteside is capable of averaging over five blocks this season if he aimed for that, but he'd help himself and the team far more by adhering to what the Heat system demands of him. When Dwight Howard won three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards, his blocks per game dropped each season, but his impact was the same if not greater.
If Whiteside stays healthy, motivated, and clear of foul trouble this is, by far, Miami's greatest position of strength this coming season. To the rest of the NBA: