Hassan Whiteside was (mostly) a feelgood story last season. He came out of nowhere after bouncing around the D-League and overseas to establish himself as one of the premier defensive centers in the NBA and presumed anchor to the Miami Heat frontcourt for the foreseeable future. But the narratives in the NBA universe tend to shift rather abruptly these days.
That’s what happened to Whiteside recently when his name turned up in speculative trade rumors involving both DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard. Part of that is because Whiteside doesn’t quite fit the direction the Heat want to move in due to his inability to stretch the floor with outside shooting. The other reason is because – like Howard, DeAndre Jordan, and a few others – Whiteside has become something of a liability in late-game situations as opposing coaches will mercilessly deploy the hack-a-whoever maneuver and put him at the free-throw line, where he is a career 50 percent shooter.
It’s a reality that’s forced Erik Spoelstra to drastically reduce his fourth-quarter minutes this season. But Whiteside, for his part, doesn’t seem too fazed by it, and that’s because he has a healthy perspective on just how far he’s come in his career.
He was effectively able to buck that trend in a small but significant way Sunday in the Heat’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers when he posted a career-best 37:38 minutes of game time, which included all but 29 seconds of action after halftime. He finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. He was still just 50 percent from the line (2-of-4), but he made them when it counted after the Blazers intentionally fouled him with the game close in the final three minutes.
He still has a long way to go before he can secure consistent minutes in crunch-time situations, but his comment shows a level of maturity that has been lacking at times with certain poor judgment and decision-making in the past.