CHICAGO — The Bulls had no answer for Hassan Whiteside. In just 24 minutes on the floor, the Miami Heat center was a terror in the paint, putting up a career night with 14 points, 13 rebounds and a Heat franchise record 12 blocks.
The Bulls’ formidable frontline was terrified to even go at him, and when they did, he made them pay. Pau Gasol’s 13 points came on 6-for-16 shooting. Joakim Noah shot 1-for-5. Taj Gibson shot 3-for-10. When Whiteside was in the game, the Bulls couldn’t get anything going offensively.
“That’s what the team needs,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “It gives us a very different dimension. It’s a credit to him for continuing to work hard and match it with his talent.”
Whiteside’s out-of-nowhere success story has been the highlight of an up-and-down season for the Heat in their first year without LeBron James. A former second-round pick of the Sacramento Kings, Whiteside bounced around overseas and in the D-League, a tremendously talented big man with questions about his attitude that scared most teams off.
“I told my teammates, you wouldn’t believe how things work out in life,” Whiteside said. Three months ago, you can ask anybody at the downtown [YMCA] in Charlotte, I was there just chilling. Just working on my game. I couldn’t even get a team to pick up the phone.”
Every other team in the NBA is now kicking themselves for missing out on Whiteside, but his success was in no way a sure thing. If anybody had a clue he would be this good, he would have been a lottery pick in 2010. Hasheem Thabeet was a No. 2 pick in 2009 just because he was tall. Whiteside needed to go on the journey he went on to become the player he is. That meant being humbled after coming into the NBA thinking he was the best player on the floor. He had to go back to basics, embrace defense and rebounding and wait for the right opportunity. Now that he’s gotten it, he’s taking advantage of it. He’s used to being forgotten.
“In high school, it was, ‘Where’d he come from?'” Whiteside said. “Five years ago, if anybody followed my Marshall career, I did one year there. I didn’t even start until later on in the season, and by the end of the season, I was projected as a lottery pick. It’s been like that all my life. It’s always, ‘Where’d he come from?'”
One thing is for sure: Whiteside is going to get himself paid over the summer. Seven-footers are always highly coveted in the NBA, and he’s proven himself to be a diamond in the rough. For now, though, he’s found a home in Miami.
“I told Spo, I wanted to be the anchor for the team,” he said. “So when I got here, they gave me the chance when nobody else would.”