In an off-season that completely revamped the roster for the Portland Trail Blazers, the most scrutinized move was the acquisition of Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside.
The simple reason the Blazers wanted Whiteside? When at his best, he puts up video game numbers. His numbers do not actually appear to be real. His box scores require a double-take. Case in point: the Blazers team record for blocks in one game is Joel Pryzbilla’s nine in April of 2006. Whiteside has beaten or tied that four times. His career high is a mind-boggling 12, produced on January 25, 2015 against the Chicago Bulls. He also had 14 points and 13 rebounds for an unconventional triple-double. Before you say that was four years ago, he tied Pryzbilla with nine last season while also scoring 29 and grabbing 20 rebounds against a solid San Antonio Spurs squad. Every season since his emergence with the Heat in the 2014-2015 season, he has also recorded at least one 20 rebound game.
Since 2000, the four best shot blocking seasons (minimum 60 games played) for Portland come from Pryzbilla twice (2005, 2006), Rasheed Wallace (2001) and Theo Ratliff (2005). Pryzbilla leads the way with a 2.5 average in 2005. Every one of Whiteside’s seasons since his emergence would rank up there, including a patently absurd 3.7 per game in 2015-2016. Whiteside still had 1.9 blocks per game last year despite seeing his minutes plummet from 32.6 in 2016-2017 to a career-low 23.3 last season. That would be good enough to rank No. 10 on Portland’s all-time list.
POR Shot Block Leaders With Whiteside Added
Of course, the minutes drop is part of the reason critics wanted to steer clear of Portland’s new center. His public spats with Heat coach Eric Spoelstra drew the ire of plenty around the league. Spoelstra sat Whiteside against certain defensive match ups, which analytically was the right call. In the new era of drive to the rim or shoot a three, Whiteside is a premier rim defender. However, when teams utilized stretch fours and fives who can shoot from distance, Whiteside was reluctant to follow them out of the paint. Miami instead went with Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk in those times, which frustrated Whiteside.
Whiteside may have had a point. According to HoopsStats, in games where Whiteside and his opposing match up both played 25 or more minutes, Whiteside smothered fifteen of them, played even with eight others, and lost just two. The losses were a series of three-point barrages: one from Karl-Anthony Towns, the other by Brook Lopez.
The other downside for Whiteside last season came at the charity stripe. Whiteside had improved his free throw percentage in almost every year, climbing to 70.3 percent in 2017-2018, putting him thirteenth among true centers. In fact, he ranked higher than both Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz and Jusuf Nurkic of the Blazers.
Last season, his percentage suddenly plummeted to an abysmal 44.9 percent, easily the lowest of his career. The reason for his drop is a mystery. He missed ten games, but those were with fairly minor hip and knee problems. From late November to late December, he went on a streak of 11-for-49 from the free throw line at 22.4 percent. As his woes continued, his minutes decreased.
Portland is betting that the immense drop in free throw percentage is something that can be fixed. His drop in free throw percentage is historic. According to Weak Side Awareness, the only other player with drops of that size within two seasons was Tim Duncan, who dropped from 79.8 percent in 2001 to 59.8 percent in 2003. Duncan would level off, and shoot 69.6 percent for his career. For a player more in line from Whiteside’s style, Shaquille O’Neal dropped from a 62.2 percent in 2002 to 42.2 percent in 2006. He also leveled off to shoot 52.2 percent for his career. With these numbers, it is not outside the realm of reason for Whiteside to be closer to a 57 or 58 percent shooter from the line this season.
Whiteside has the ability to give Portland an extreme rebounding and shot blocking edge they have lacked in recent years, and the front office is betting the risk is worth the reward.