Hassan Whiteside‘s rise last season was almost unprecedented. Given the basketball world’s collective obsession with athletic big men, it said a lot that Whiteside had completely flamed out of the NBA for several years by the time the Heat picked him up. He wasn’t even on the league’s collective radar after spending several years overseas — and then, seemingly overnight, he had turned into a double-double machine, saving Miami’s season.
It wasn’t enough: once Chris Bosh‘s blood clots were discovered and he was sidelined for the year, Miami’s playoff hopes were effectively dashed. The much-hyped post-trade deadline lineup of Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Bosh and Whiteside never got to play together. The idea is that this year, they will, and on paper, this Heat team is one of the few in the east with enough talent and depth to seriously challenge Cleveland and make a deep playoff run. But a big part of that potential is the notion that Whiteside’s success is sustainable, that the paint monster he was in the 48 games he played last year is the player he is, full-stop.
Theoretically, he has a great skillset to compliment Bosh in the frontcourt. His ability to finish at the rim will give Bosh plenty of space to play around the perimeter, which is where he’s most comfortable. It’s a good fit, and when everybody’s healthy, Miami should be very effective on the offensive end. On defense, he’s a shot-blocking machine, but has a tendency to get into foul trouble. Whiteside will be highly motivated to keep his more erratic tendencies in check this year, since he’s due for a major payday next summer if he has another good year.
But Whiteside hasn’t started training camp healthy. He’s been out with a calf strain during preseason, which isn’t a great sign. Questions about his attitude have also never entirely dissipated despite his success last year in Miami — Whiteside had a couple of incidents last season where he was ejected for excessive hard fouls, which prompted Wade to call him out publicly. Even if he’s healthy, there’s plenty of reason to expect that there’s at least a small regression coming.
Still, if Whiteside is even close to what he was last year, the Heat will be extremely dangerous. His combination of size and athleticism make him a game-changer, and he fits well with the Heat’s other starters. It’s far from a sure thing that he’ll continue to produce the way he did last season, but he’s too talented for there not to be a good chance he’ll continue at something resembling that level, at least enough to make the Heat a contender in the East.