How the Heat's Little-Known Big Man Hassan Whiteside Is Making a Case to Start

Could Whiteside be the big man the Heat have been missing?

Hassan Whiteside’s journey to the NBA hasn’t been very typical.

Drafted 33rd overall in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings, the 7’0’’ center played in only one game during his rookie season due to being in the NBA Developmental League and being injured. From 2012 to 2014, he moved around a lot, continuing to play in the D-League and even in the Lebanon and China. While in China, he averaged 25.7 points per game and was the key to a team that went undefeated.

In 2014, he joined the Iowa Energy of the D-League where -- in just three games -- he was able to create enough buzz to earn himself a call-up with the Memphis Grizzlies. Shortly after, however, the Grizzlies waived him, and Whiteside was once again on the move. He was out of work for only two days before the Miami Heat came calling.

Resulting from his productive play in small minutes, he’s started to solidify a role in the NBA, but playing in the NBA isn't like playing in Lebanon, China, or the Developmental League. So, how exactly has he fared so far?

The Stats

The answer is quite well.

Although he signed with the Heat in late November, he didn’t see valuable minutes until December 19th against the Wizards. The Heat lost that game 105-103, but Whiteside played 16 minutes. Since Christmas, he has averaged 21 minutes per game, 8.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks.

To compare, Chris Andersen, (the Heat's other option at the position) has averaged 22.3 minutes while averaging 7.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks in the same time frame. For the whole season, Andersen is averaging 19.5 minutes, 5.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks. Andersen's per-game numbers look small, but in 19.5 minutes, he’s not too bad.

Of the 16 players who play fewer than 20 minutes but manage at least 4.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 0.5 blocks, Andersen’s win shares per 48 minutes (.130) rank ninth. Whiteside’s (.151) is sixth. As for nERD, our in-house metric to measure efficiency, Whiteside trails Andersen but lacks the benefit of Andersen’s cumulative minutes.

In 430 minutes this year, Andersen has racked up a nERD of 1.3, which means he adds an estimated 1.3 winds to his team as a starter. Whiteside’s is 0.8 but per minute -- has just 158 this year -- it’s markedly better per-minute. Still, anything on the right side of zero is a good thing, so Andersen is still helping the Heat.

So with similar amount of playing time, Whiteside is out-performing Chris Andersen. Does he deserve to start over him and have a big tandem of Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside? The answer, to me anyways, is yes.

The per-36 stats (which determines a player’s statistics for every 36 minutes of playing) shows that it would be beneficial as well. Extrapolated over 36 minutes, Whiteside would have 14.4 points, 13.4 rebounds, and a whopping 4.8 blocks per game. Comparing that to the Heat’s other options only confirms that Whiteside is the best available. Chris Andersen’s per-36 numbers are 9.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks. Similar to Andersen is Udonis Haslem , whose numbers are 9.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 0.3 blocks.

Whiteside and the Rest of the NBA

The stats show that Whiteside is a better option than his counterparts on the Heat, but how does he compare to the big stars of the NBA?

Quite well, actually. Looking at all players’ per 36 stats, Whiteside's 13.4 rebounds rank him tied for seventh with Demarcus Cousins and higher than players such as Dwight Howard (12.8), Zach Randolph (13.0), Tim Duncan (11.9), and Pau Gasol (11.6).

His 4.8 blocks are easily the most in the league, ahead of Rudy Gobert, who averages 3.8 per 36. To put Whiteside’s numbers in perspective, his 4.8 average is at least 2.0 higher than well-known shot-blockers Serge Ibaka (2.6) and Roy Hibbert (2.7). That being said, even if Whiteside can’t continue his current form of blocking shots, he would still rank towards the top even with a dip in numbers.

Going Forward

The Miami Heat are clinging onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and have gone 6-14 since the start of December. The difference between Whiteside, Andersen, Haslem is significant enough for the Heat to consider giving Whiteside a bigger role. His play could give the Heat the lift they need to keep a hold on the eighth seed.