Portland Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside has had an inauspicious start to his tenure in Rip City. In the team’s pre-season opener last week, the big man air-balled his first shot attempt with his new team—a free throw. While the eighth-year NBA vet has never been a marksman from the charity stripe—shooting 45% last season—the whiff was unfortunately a precursor for his performance in his first two games.
After recording 12 uneventful minutes in the game against the Denver Nuggets, scoring seven points on 3-6 shooting with four rebounds, he played a larger role in the game against the Phoenix Suns over the weekend. However, an enhanced role didn’t yield better results. While he went 5-5 from the field, scoring twelve points and grabbing six boards, the negatives from his outing outweighed the positives.
Much like the opener, he seemed a step (or two) slow throughout the night against the Suns. It’s worth noting that he suffered a sprained ankle during training camp, which may explain this, but given the fact that his lack of motivation was a major issue during his tenure with the Miami Heat, it certainly raises a bit of a red flag.
Hassan’s lack of energy was hardly the only issue, however. While he remains a terrific rim protector (showcasing a highlight-reel block that jumped-started a fast break against the Suns), his perimeter defense is virtually nonexistent. The Suns’ big men had open looks from three throughout the night, with Whiteside glued to the post. In a league that relies so heavily on three-point shooting, this could prove to be problematic throughout the season.
His screen-setting has also left much to be desired. Blazers fans have become accustomed to the solid, bone-rattling screens of Jusuf Nurkic, and even Meyers Leonard over the years, and Whiteside is simply not in the same category in that area. Particularly discouraging was the amount of offensive fouls he picked up on moving screens on Saturday—leading to an astonishing six turnovers on the night. He’s going to need to clean that up if he is going to stay on the floor, but considering we’re still in the preseason, this shouldn’t be a major concern—yet.
Fair or not, Whiteside’s performance will probably be compared to that of the injured Jusuf Nurkic, who is a much more versatile threat offensively. Ultimately, this means that the team will need other players to step up and fill the void of Whiteside’s deficiencies until Nurk is able to return, presumably around the All-Star break. Look for Zach Collins to take on a bigger role in the offense, particularly when the two are on the floor at the same time.
While he has gotten off to a rocky start, one must remember that the big man has averaged a double-double over the last five seasons, and has a career average of over two blocks a game. There’s plenty that he can offer this team, and by playing to his strengths and staying engaged, he should at least be able to hold down the fort until the Bosnian Beast returns.
The fact of the matter is that the Blazers are simply not as good a team without Nurkic, but there’s no need to hit the panic button. Enes Kanter was able to step-up his game with a bigger role in the playoffs this season, and there’s no reason Hassan can’t do the same in Nurkic’s absence. As he gets more familiar with his new team, and his teammates get used to his game, hopefully the deficiencies will become more masked over the coming weeks.