Hassan Whiteside will not participate in the NBA All-Star activities in two weeks in New York. But he’s been a star-in-the-making for the Miami Heat, a revelation that has made big news this season.
At 25, Whiteside has found his game and an NBA team to call his own. It’s a startling, feel-good story about a 7-footer who took an around-the-world route to land in Miami.
Here’s Whiteside’s journey to the Heat. He played for Reno, Sioux Falls and Rio Grande Valley in the NBA Development League; professionally in Lebanon, in China and back in Lebanon and then back to China last year. There was another trip back to the NBA D-League in Iowa, too.
All this since 2010.
But Pat Riley, through the Heat’s scouts, had been keeping track of Whiteside. And when the Memphis Grizzlies cut him, Riley swooped in. The Heat president and former NBA championship coach with the Los Angeles Lakers has been rewarded big time.
Whiteside has gradually emerged as an inside force, a big man who plays like a big man. He has had games of 14 points, 13 rebounds and a team-record 12 blocks in just 24 minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers and 16 points and 16 rebounds against Milwaukee.
He plays with energy and enthusiasm, for sure partly because he’s so excited to finally have a true opportunity.
“What I needed was a chance and the Heat gave me one,” said Whiteside, who went to Marshall and was a second-round draft pick by the Sacramento Kings.
He’s averaging 3.6 blocks a game, more than anyone in the league. He’s shooting .675 field-goal percentage (most of them dunks), which would be second in the league if he had played enough games. And his 9.3 rebounds ranks tied for 15th with Chicago’s Joakim Noah.
Impressive stuff for someone few people heard of before this season.
“We still feel there’s enough upside on the educational side of his game as he’s getting more and more repetition,” Riley said. “He’s just touched NBA play. The more minutes on the court, the more situations he sees, the more players he plays against – he’s just going to get better.”
Riley was surprised when he saw this new incarnation of Whiteside in November. He had gained 40 pounds, up to 260. He played with a purpose, focus and commitment that intrigued Riley.
Said Riley: “I hadn’t seen him for a year and half, and I said, ‘This is not the same Hassan.’ His sojourn around the world, in all the different leagues, not only humbled him but he learned to play.”
More than that, Riley said: “He’d got to the point where this was important to him.”
Now he’s an important part of the Heat — a long way from playing in Lebanon.
“”Finally,” Whiteside said. “(And) I’m going to get better.”