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“It’s really bothering me:” how will the Heat win games without Whiteside?

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Numbers show Whiteside has a bigger effect on Miami's success than meets the eye.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

After the Miami Heat loss at Madison Square Garden, Hassan Whiteside was quoted as saying,

"It's really bothering me, man. We're going to figure it out. We're going to figure it out when we get back to Miami and figure out what's wrong."

Replacing a player with the highest Player Impact Estimate (PIE) in the NBA won’t be easy. Fans correctly point out that number alone doesn’t guarantee success, but when his PIE tops all others (10 games or more) by more than 5 points, in the second half of games, that gauge has at least some merit.

Player Impact Estimate

Hassan Whiteside 8 7 25.8 8.3 66.2 27.3
James Johnson 9 11 8.1 15.4 61.0 11.0
Goran Dragic 10 11 7.9 10.7 48.2 10.4
Kelly Olynyk 10 11 15.2 19.5 59.5 10.3
Justise Winslow 10 11 11.9 13.7 45.8 7.6
Wayne Ellington 10 8 4.0 3.0 55.6 6.6
Dion Waiters 9 10 4.5 11.3 46.4 6.2
Tyler Johnson 9 11 7.2 8.1 40.0 4.7
Josh Richardson 10 11 5.5 18.5 41.6 2.0

To put his PIE of 27.3 in perspective, only two other players have a PIE over 20, Giannis Antetokounmpo at 22.0 and LeBron James at 21.3.

Hassan remains an elite rebounder as measured by % of rebound opportunities. Notably, Wayne Ellington and him are the only Miami players with winning records when they’re on the court. While Whiteside tops the NBA in PIE, Josh Richardson’s 2.0 number is fifth worst among the 330 players with ten or more games. Two factors account for this: substandard rebounding for a forward and high turnover percentage.

Between Kelly Olynyk’s 19.5%, Richardson's 18.5%, James Johnson’s 15.4% TOV ratio, the Heat cough up the ball over half the time they’re on the court. Turnovers include not just errant passes, but mishandling a pass, stupid fouls, losing a dribble, traveling, illegal screens, and more. Richardson may keep opponents FG% down, but what good is a defensive ace, when he gives the ball back to the other team almost 20% of the time?

Whiteside erased many of Miami's mental lapses on defense by patrolling the paint and securing rebounds. Now the Heat need to figure out how tighten the ship with Hassan's availability being hampered by an ongoing knee problem. The last two games involved more than lack of effort, but overall sloppy play on offense and defense.

HHH’s Brandon Di Perno writes,

The Eastern Conference is a lot more competitive this season. Philadelphia is playing well, Victor Oladipo and the Pacers look very strong, the Pistons have emerged and even the Knicks have found some sort of stability. This currently leaves Miami in the tenth seed with Magic right on their tail.

Without Rodney McGruder and Whiteside not at 100% health, the Heat don’t have the luxury of developing the habit of being in every game mentally over time. LeBron James says he doesn’t look at the long-term picture, but treats each and every possession as the only one that matters.

That’s the way he keeps his focused on his game: the past is over and future is unknown. The only thing he can control is the present.