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The Hassan Whiteside puzzle: what’s holding him back from being the All-Star the Heat need?

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Whiteside has all the physical tools to dominate, but have the Heat gone away from using him productively?

Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

When the Miami Heat signed Hassan Whiteside to a max contract two summers ago, he was seen as the missing link to a championship team. What happened to make those dreams fade away since then?

How could a player who’s a double-double machine become virtually unplayable against the Philadelphia 76ers in last season’s playoff series? A look at the stats from that series provides the answer.

Heat 76ers Playoffs

Wayne Ellington 92.1 112.6 -20.5 4.0 7.1 53.7
Josh Richardson 104.5 120.0 -15.5 6.1 8.1 48.7
Hassan Whiteside 90.8 106.0 -15.3 20.1 31.0 50.5
Bam Adebayo 100.9 111.9 -11.0 13.3 8.6 40.2
James Johnson 100.3 109.8 -9.6 10.0 12.2 64.4
Tyler Johnson 105.5 111.9 -6.4 5.5 5.7 68.8
Goran Dragic 104.7 110.8 -6.2 4.5 12.2 54.9
Justise Winslow 106.0 107.4 -1.4 13.9 11.4 49.5
Kelly Olynyk 108.7 109.3 -0.6 8.5 10.0 60.6
Dwyane Wade 101.9 99.8 2.1 8.4 10.0 51.0

The figures show that while Whiteside had the third worst NetRtg behind Wayne Ellington and Josh Richardson, he still was the team’s leading rebounder. What sunk Whiteside was his terrible turnover rate of 31%, which lead to the worst Offensive Rating, 90.8, of any player on the team during the playoffs.

The 76ers game-planned for Whiteside’s problems handling the basketball, since that issue isn’t exactly a secret, and Whiteside gave them what they wanted. Here’s some of Whiteside’s less than steller moments attempting to handle the ball in a mixtape.

Whiteside has elite skills in rebounding and shot-blocking, since he was the league’s rebounding leader for the 2016-17 season with a per game average of 14.1 rebounds, and the lead the NBA in blocks per game with 3.7 during the 2015-16 campaign.

When sticking to what he does best, Whiteside can dominate a game as his 30 points and 20 rebounds in 27 minutes against the 76ers demonstrated.

The season before Whiteside scored 30 points with 12 rebounds in a win against the Washington Wizards.

Asking Whiteside to have a handle like Kelly Olynyk doesn’t work, because it’s like trying to make Olynyk’s 6’10” wingspan into Whiteside’s 7’7” wingspan. Each player has their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

In fact Whiteside’s wingspan trailed only Rudy Gobert’s 7’9” wingspan in the NBA in 2016. This year’s rookie Mo Bamba 7’10” wingspan beats them both, except at 225 lbs, Bamba gives up 40 lbs to Whiteside’s 265 lbs.

Let’s compare Whiteside to Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid, Dwight Howard, Nikola Jokic, and Olynyk:

Hassan Whiteside – 7’0”, 265 lbs, 7’7” wingspan

Rudy Gobert – 7’1”, 245 lbs, 7’9” wingspan

Joel Embiid – 7’0”, 250 lbs, 7’6” wingspan

Dwight Howard – 6’11”, 265 lbs, 7’5” wingspan

Nikola Jokic – 6’10”, 250 lbs, 7’3” winspan

Kelly Olynyk – 7’0”, 245 lbs, 6’10” wingspan

Clearly Whiteside presents a challenging match-up for any of them to handle when going head-to-head on an individual basis.

Looking back to the 76ers playoffs the glass appears half-empty for Whiteside, it could also be half-full with his imposing physique. He seems built for working with the one-on-one iso-style of a Dwyane Wade or Dion Waiters, rather than set screens for Goran Dragic to attack the basket, or to handle the ball like Olynyk for hand-offs.

Shaquille O’Neal wasn’t paid to set screens or make hand-offs for 3-point shooters, but dominate in the paint.

At his NBA combine Shaq measured 7’1” tall, with a 7’7” wingspan, but weighed in at 305 lbs, so nobody was going to move him once planted in the rim area. That was the idea with Whiteside, but events didn’t go according to plan.

Many have pointed out Whiteside’s assist deficiencies, and the NBA’s trend to a small-ball style of play. That’s a very real problem, but then as teams double or triple-team him in the paint, Miami could have an edge elsewhere on the court with a 4 on 3, or even 4 on 2, advantage ready to find an open man for a score.

A healthy Waiters and Whiteside duo not relying on picks could provide Miami with a pleasant surprise this coming season.