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Examining the Narratives That Surround Blazers’ Hassan Whiteside

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Forbes contributor Wes Goldberg answers questions about Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside’s time with the Miami Heat.

Miami Heat v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Trail Blazers’ eventful offseason was headlined by the acquisition of Heat center Hassan Whiteside. The former Miami pivot man is known for his eye-popping numbers in the post, but Whiteside has also garnered a less-than-ideal reputation during his time in the NBA. Painted as a malcontent by members of the media, the towering 7-footer has an opportunity to shift that narrative in Portland.

In an effort to get a clearer picture of Whiteside’s time in Miami, Blazer’s Edge reached out to Wes Goldberg who contributes for Forbes and hosts the Locked On Heat podcast.

Blazer’s Edge: What can the Blazers expect from Whiteside this season?

Wes Goldberg: Rebounding and a rim protection presence, which is different than actual rim protection. At 30 years old and with a spotted injury history, Whiteside isn’t the athlete he was when he popped onto the scene a few years ago. He doesn’t jump high or block shots from the weak side as much as he used to, though he still has decent instincts around the rim and is still really, really big. He struggles to switch onto the perimeter so teams may attack him in the pick-and-roll like they did Enes Kanter last season, though he’s not quite as vulnerable. His knack for rebounding hasn’t waned with his age and he’ll create plenty of second-chance opportunities. As excited as he is to be surrounded by shooters, however, don’t expect much passing. Not only is he reluctant to do so, but his vision is limited. Unless someone is right in front of him asking for the ball, he’s more likely to force up a bad shot than to find the open shooter. Get used to plenty of push shots clanking off the back iron from 11 feet out.

BE: In your opinion, when and how did Whiteside’s relationship with the Heat sour?

WG: After the Heat selected Bam Adebayo with the No. 14 pick two seasons ago, some thought Whiteside and Adebayo could co-exist. The Heat tried starting them together in the front court, but that experiment failed more miserably than Avril Lavigne’s comeback attempt this year. By the end of the 2018 season, head coach Erik Spoelstra was routinely favoring Adebayo in closing lineups over Whiteside. After a late-season overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets, in which he didn’t play the final 21 minutes, Whiteside frustratedly told reporters: “Man, it’s annoying, you know. Why we matching up? We got one of the best centers in the league. Why we matching up? A lot of teams don’t have a good center.” The team fined him for comments detrimental to the team and, that summer, reports indicate they began trying to trade him.

BE: Obviously things didn’t go according to plan in Miami. Do you think a change of scenery and a contract year can get Whiteside properly motivated?

WG: I’m not sure the problem is motivation. I think that’s a false narrative with Whiteside. He’s plenty motivated to work hard, put up big numbers and win. I think the problem is that he hasn’t come to grips with just how limited his game is, and where he should be focusing his work and attention to detail. Instead of trying to convince coaches to let him shoot three-pointer—he should be doing more homework on his post ups, and focusing on getting closer to the basket. At the gym, maybe he should sub out a chest day for legs more often. Instead of relying on an inefficient hook shot, he should be doing more passing drills out of the post. Maybe new coaches and the prospects of a new contract can snap him back to reality, but I doubt it.

BE: What part of Whiteside’s game doesn’t get enough recognition?

WG: If you’re asking me for a positive, well, for several years, on/off analytics weren’t favorable to Whiteside, especially on the defensive end. Those red numbers nudged closer to neutral last season. He’s become a more disciplined defender overall and he doesn’t chase blocks as much as he used to (but he still will every so often). Whiteside also took fewer shots on offense (which is good).

BE: On the flip side, what part of his game is overblown?

WG: A misdiagnosed part of his game is the idea of him as a lob threat. Dwyane Wade was the only player with any pick-and-roll chemistry with Whiteside last season. Otherwise, Whiteside just isn’t that much of a roll big. Damian Lillard is one of the best in the league at creating pick-and-roll chemistry, but he has his work cut out for him.

BE: Finally, what is the most misunderstood part of Whiteside’s tenure with the Heat?

WG: That he wasn’t a good teammate. For all of the frustrating comments to the media and boneheaded plays on the court, Whiteside cared deeply about winning and for his teammates. While he could make his teammates and coaches roll their eyes at times, he was also great comedic relief in a locker room that was sometimes too serious. Again, it’s not that Whiteside doesn’t care about winning, I just think he’s a bit delusional as to how to win at a high level. He’s not selfish, he’s just stubborn.