What do you do when you had the best year of your professional career and there’s still much to fulfill? Why not aim for an even bigger season?
The Miami Heat’s 26-year-old center Hassan Whiteside was the breakout star of the NBA last season, but this year he’s striving to achieve greater heights. Whiteside wants to win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award and it’s not a lofty goal because he’s got the capability to win it. Whiteside will be shaking Commissioner Adam Silvers’ hand before a playoff game this season because he’s going to win that award.
Last year Kawhi Leonard missed a quarter of the season and took home one of the NBA’s most coveted trophies because he was able to get the San Antonio Spurs 55 regular season wins while being their best defender. In addition, the Spurs also finished the year second in defensive rating, while holding their opponents to only 97 points per game, the third-best in the entire league. Leonard was trailed by the Golden State Warriors small forward Draymond Green. Statistically, Green’s impact on the court didn’t justify his second place finish, but if you saw live how he performed in the regular season it was more than enough evidence. Without Green, the Warriors wouldn’t have finished with a 67-15 record. They also wouldn’t have had the best defensive rating in the league.
The overall team performance is what got each of these two the nod for first and second places finishes. This year when the Miami Heat go to the playoffs, and potentially the Eastern Conference Finals, Whiteside too will have more than enough victories in his belt to show that his defense is too valuable to the Heat’s success, further pushing his case to win the award.
Barring any God forbidden injuries, it’s safe to say that this season the Miami Heat will be in the playoffs. If the Heat can manage to win around 45 games and or finish with one of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference it’ll be hard to deny someone that averaged 10 rebounds and 2.6 blocks a game, posting a triple-double and gathering 22 double-doubles in the process.
Those are the numbers Whiteside accumulated last season in only 48 games. It’s scary to think about the numbers he’ll average on a full 82 game schedule. It’s not a stretch to say that all of his numbers could increase even more. This year though we’ve seen Whiteside working out in the American Airlines Arena more often and he’s even hungrier to have even more success. If you look at him you can see that he’s gotten stronger. You can also see that he’s starting to develop his overall offensive game. It won’t be a fluke and even his teammates are starting to rally behind Whiteside as well. During the Miami Heat’s Media Day, Chris Bosh said this about Whiteside.
“I told him I’m going to be on him every day because I see his ability and what he can do. Really further than that. You want him to increase his upside and get better. If you want to win then one of the main things you have to do is push each other. It’s not always easy.”
— FanJam (@FanJam) September 29, 2015
More importantly Whiteside’s work ethic now is showing to the Miami Heat fans, coaches and the rest of the NBA world that his breakout season isn’t and won’t be the best year of his career, instead of loving what he’s accomplished already. During the Miami Heat’s Media Day, Whiteside said this.
“I think that’s one of my big focuses right now, just being the best defender in the NBA.”
What will also be very interesting to see is if Whiteside will be voted into the starting lineup for the Eastern Conference as an All-Star. If winning the Defensive Player of the Year award is on his mind, then surely is making the All-Star team as well. Whiteside actually has an incredible opportunity to accomplish that goal because last season the players that were voted in at center were Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks and Pau Gasol of the Chicago Bulls. Horford was a part of a rare occurrence that saw him and three other of his teammates voted to the roster together and that won’t happen this season. Additionally, for as good as Gasol played at the beginning of the season and rightfully earned his spot as the starting center, his age started to show in the second half of the year. Whiteside has two opportunities prime and ready for his taking.
It’s not too often where you get a team with this much talent in the starting lineup together. It’s not too often that you find a 26-year-old franchise center who’s going to dominate right in the beginning of the prime of his career. Get ready to watch Whiteside win the Defensive Player of the Year.
D’Joumbarey A. Moreau covers sports in Miami-Dade & Broward County. You can follow him on Twitter @DJoumbarey.