Every opening tip-off the Miami Heat boasts a lineup of five great players. Out of those five, players like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are the most accomplished and their merit as players are taller than most grizzled veterans around the league. However for as tall as their accomplishments stack up as players, there’s one player in the starting lineup who’s tall stature can help add to their resume, Hassan Whiteside.
Before the opening tip-off of games, you can see a chiseled 7’0 265 pound of a gargantuan man stand at center court where the Heat logo is placed and intimidate the other five players opposing him. Whiteside is just getting started as an NBA player and in his first year as a full-time starter, he’s putting up awesome numbers across the board. Whiteside is averaging a double-double of 12.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. He’s also leading the NBA in shot blocks averaging 4.1 swats a night.
For as great as Whiteside has been playing, why isn’t he playing more minutes? Whiteside has shown that with a year of development that he’s put in the work in the offseason which is why he’s been so successful. But in particular, why isn’t Miami creating their small ball lineups with him in mind in order to play him more minutes?
This year as a center Whiteside is on pace to making his first All-Star game selection. Outside of Detroit’s Andre Drummond, there are no other centers in the Eastern Conference that have impressed more than Whiteside. What’s been very odd is that he has not played more than 30 minutes since Nov. 27. In addition to not playing more than 30 minutes, Whiteside was also held out of four straight fourth quarters before the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night. Both of these odd trends continued in Friday’s loss at Indiana, where Whiteside only played in played just 17 minutes and 29 seconds.
Why keep your third best player out of the game in the entire fourth quarter?
Before we can ask questions like that we do need to acknowledge the risks of playing Whiteside during winning time. Having someone on the floor who can’t make free throws is a dangerous situation because teams will intentionally foul and keep putting him on the stripe. If he can’t make free throws and Miami keeps getting empty trips at the line it stops the clock and it gives the opponent an easier time to come back in games. Whiteside is shooting 50 percent from the charity stripe, so that is a real concern for any coach.
However do the risks of Whiteside missing free throws outweigh the reward?
Defense is the name of the game for the Heat and it’s what their team is built on. Coming into the game against Memphis, Whiteside had the third longest block streak to start an NBA season. He recorded a block in 22 straight games which only trailed Shaquille O’Neal (23) and Mark Eaton (24). Opponents simply cannot get to the rim when he’s on the floor because he’ll easily swat your shot.
“When guys come to the paint, they see me, they pass it, they pass it out to the 3-point line,” said Whiteside. That also includes the Memphis Grizzlies, Miami’s opponent on Sunday. “They did a good job of staying away from me.”
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) December 10, 2015
Furthermore, when opponents shoot he gobbles up rebounds which limit second chance points. Having him on the floor as a defensive anchor is something most teams don’t have. Since Miami started using LeBron James and Chris Bosh as their power forward combination from 2012-2014, we’ve seen a number of teams attempt to copy their style of play including the defending 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. Instead of trying to adapt to the way that the league is why not break the trend?
Ironically enough when Whiteside plays on the floor Miami shoots better, they get more offensive rebounds, they block more shots and their offensive rating goes up. Why not put more offensive minded players around him such as Tyler Johnson, Goran Dragic, Gerald Green and Dwayne Wade and play in that type of lineup?
The pick-and-roll has worked for Whiteside with Wade and having more players that can utilize that part of the offense should only help Miami. As much as the defense has been a priority for Miami, they need more scoring if they want to compete. Right now they are ranked as the No. 28 team in the league when it comes to points per game averaging only 95.6 a contest. That number has to increase if Miami wants to win more so than having lineups that don’t feature someone like Whiteside shooting 63 percent from the floor.
Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra has some questions to answer when it comes to Whiteside because having him isn’t a problem. It’s the apparent lack of offense.
D’Joumbarey A. Moreau covers sports in Miami-Dade & Broward County. You can follow him on Twitter@DJoumbarey.