How Hassan Whiteside Is Going Higher With His Game

The Heat big man is finally ready to capitalize on all his potential. What is he doing differently?

In a world where the Warriors, Stephen Curry, and the three-point shot reign supreme, a guy of Hassan Whiteside's talents is an afterthought. 

With all eyes on the reigning MVP and what he's doing from the perimeter -- to the point that some have suggested moving back the three-point line -- otherwise dominant players seem to have fallen into the category of pretty good

Not as many people are noticing, but superstars Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, and LeBron James all find themselves in the midst of great seasons of their own.

The same is true for the one-time NBA D-Leaguer.

The not-so-star-like Whiteside is having a statistically historic season and is only improving upon it (not to mention his game) as the season grows older.

The Foundation

What most know about Whiteside is that he's a freak of an athlete, a good defender, a great rim protector and an even better rebounder.

For a 7'0", 265-pound center, Whiteside is amazingly quick off his feet and can elevate with the best of the them. Since his emergence just a year ago, his special leaping ability, paired with his 7'7" wingspan, has allowed Whiteside to control the painted area with authority.

In 48 games and 32 starts a season ago, the Miami big man blocked 123 shots (2.6 per game) while tallying 2.4 Defensive Win Shares and earning a Defensive Rating of 93 on the year. In fact, if he had played enough games, his Defensive Rating and Block Percentage of 9.2% would've been tops in the entire league.

When not blocking his opponents' shots, Whiteside also managed to clean the glass with averages of 7 defensive rebounds and 10 total rebounds per game. And he did so in a mere 23.8 minutes per contest.

Now, sure, some could have questioned whether or not that was sustainable over a full 82-game campaign. I could see the doubt. But Whiteside, despite the influence of small-ball lineups, put that thought to bed from the very start of this season.

Through 45 contests prior to the All-Star break, Whiteside earned a Defensive Rating of 101.4 with 3.9 blocks in 28.2 minutes per game.

Additionally, he has continued to man the boards, with 11.0 rebounds per game, 8 coming on the defensive end of the floor. With these rebounding numbers, Whiteside averaged a double-double -- 12.2 points and 11.0 rebounds -- prior to the break.

During the break, however, news broke that Chris Bosh was again dealing with complications due to a blood clot in his calf. And since then, Bosh hasn't played a game and could possibly miss the remainder of the season.

As he did the same time a year ago, Whiteside has stepped up in head coach Erik Spoelstra's time of need.

Adding Floors

Prior to this year's midseason break, we didn't get to see much in the way of a ceiling from Whiteside. What we saw -- and what I touched on above -- is Whiteside's first floor and what was a single floor with tons of potential.

Since the break, and since his one-game suspension for elbowing the Spurs' Boban Marjanovic in the head, Whiteside seems to have learned from his mistake. He has gone and built a couple more floors to his game, showing us signs of what his sky high ceiling could be.

He's still rebounding and defending at a very high level, but he is doing so on an even greater scale.

In his five games post-suspension, the Heat big man has pulled down 11 defensive rebounds alone on his way to 16 total a game. He's also averaged four rejections over that same time span -- an ever so slight uptick from his pre-break average.

With what seems to be an new attitude and a hunger to help out his team, Whiteside has an improved Defensive Rating of 96.8 since Bosh was ruled out during the break.

Where he's shown the most growth, however, is on the offensive side of the ball.

Last year, Whiteside averaged 11.8 points per contest, and this year, he's averaged 1.1 more points per game. But, recently, Whiteside has really taken his offensive game to a new level.

Since being penalized by the league, Whiteside has come out of the break like a man on a mission, scoring 18.8 points per game on 60% shooting in 32.2 minutes a night.

His field goal percentage has come down from the 61.7% mark prior to All-Star Weekend, but when you look at the splits between his field goals and attempts per game and from what distance they're coming, you can easily determine why that is deceiving.

Distance< 5 ft.5 to 9 ft.10 to 14 ft.15 to 19 ft.
First 45 Games3.9 / 5.30.7 / 1.80.3 / 0.70.2 / 0.5
Last 5 Games4.2 / 6.61.6 / 2.80.8 / 1.41.0 / 2.0

Not only is the 26-year-old Whiteside taking more attempts per game, but he's also expanding his range in a big way.

It sure seems like Whiteside did a lot of shooting in the 10 days between his last game prior to the break and the first one after his suspension. 

He's been great in the midrange, making himself a very valuable double threat in the Heat's frequent one-five and two-five pick and rolls. When the defense has sucked in, expecting the always dangerous Wade-to-Whiteside alley oop, Whiteside has found himself open from 10 feet out more consistently.

When he's open, he's been taking the shots, and his teammates are more than okay with that. He seems to know when and when not to eye it up from the perimeter, so his shooting percentage has suffered a very insignificant amount.

His new shooting confidence can be seen best at the free throw line, though, where Whiteside is shooting 76.2% in his last five -- up from 55.2% in his first 45 games this season. 

If he continues to carry a better attitude and believe in his shot, there's no telling how high Whiteside's game could go the rest of this season and beyond.