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Should the Trail Blazers Try to Keep Hassan Whiteside?

Whiteside’s status in Portland is one of the offseason’s biggest storylines.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

No player in recent memory has been more polarizing among Blazer fans than Hassan Whiteside. When Portland traded for him over a year ago, there were numerous questions about whether it made sense to take on the final year of his albatross contract and whether he was actually going to help the team on the floor while Jusuf Nurkic recovered from his gruesome injury.

As we head into the offseason, it’s safe to say that the results were...mixed. Sure, the box score numbers turned out great. Averaging 15.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game all sounds fine and dandy. And the Blazers really did need another option at center throughout this year and would have truthfully really floundered without him. But if you watch Whiteside, there are far too many moments of him unnecessarily chasing shots, making boneheaded plays offensively, or flexing at often inappropriate times.

Whatever you may think of Whiteside, the reality is that the Blazers have to make a decision about what to do with him. His contract expires this offseason and it’s up for debate how much he’s actually worth in this league. So if you’re the Blazers, do you keep him to ensure you have a backup for Nurkic or do you let him walk? Let’s break it down.

Starting with his defense, since that’s what he’s most known for, Whiteside has no problem racking up blocks. At almost three a game, he averaged the third-most blocks per contest by a Blazer in the franchise’s history. His 10 blocks against the Chicago Bulls back in November broke the franchise record for rejections in a single game.

That’s the good stuff. Let’s talk about the bad. The truth is that in 2020, it doesn’t make much sense to argue that a player is good at defense just because he gets a lot of blocks and rebounds. It might help you trick a voter or two into putting you on an all-defensive team, but that’s about it. Whiteside is the embodiment of the player who puts up gaudy numbers while actually hurting his team more than helping.

This video breakdown from Coach Daniel summarizes everything Whiteside struggles with. A lack of defensive feel, a slow reaction time, and poor effort and discipline all make it so Whiteside never quite attains the level of defensive prowess that he could. There aren’t any moments of brilliance from Whiteside; it’s mostly just moments where he happens to actually get the block he chased.

I had to throw this clip in, because it’s just comically bad defense. Nikola Jokic looks almost shocked that Whiteside is doing so little to contest this shot. At no point does Whiteside even put a hand up just to feign contesting Jokic’s jumper. He didn’t even force Jokic into having to do a Sombor Shuffle or anything of that nature. Jokic is one of the most talented offensive players in the league, and he had to tap into about 10% of that talent to make that shot.

This is an example I actually used a while back to show Portland’s general defensive problems in Orlando. It’s a pretty self-explanatory clip: Damian Lillard plays excellent defense on Jayson Tatum only for Whiteside to bite on a pump fake from Enes Kanter. Kanter is by no means a jump shooter, but Whiteside isn’t thinking about that when he’s guarding him. Instead, he’s hunting another block, and the result is Kanter driving right by him to draw the foul.

There’s not too much to talk about offensively because there isn’t really a ton Whiteside brings on that end. A lot of his points come on either easy shots or putbacks. His 4.2 points per game off putbacks was the most in the league for any player, and he ranked in the 85th percentile for points per possession with that shot. He shot 62% from the floor this year, and that’s because when he wasn’t shooting a random three, he was mostly taking shots from inside the painted area. Almost 80% of his shots this year came from within 10 feet.

That’s actually not all that bad. Besides the occasional three, he knows that on offense his best bet is to take a shot as close to the rim as possible. But there are too many boneheaded plays that he makes when the ball is in his hand.

This is just one example of Whiteside not really thinking about the pass he’s about to make. There’s no need to overanalyze I think; Whiteside grabbed the rebound, knew his job was to get it to Lillard, and tried to do so. But like his defense, it’s a reactionary thing. Instead of taking just one second to slow it down and see what Lillard wants, Whiteside immediately throws the worst pass possible because he’s thinking ‘Get the ball to a guard.’ It results in a waste of a fastbreak opportunity.

Being an ace playmaker isn’t the main thing you want from a big man, but it’s certainly something teams like at the center position. Whiteside is not that. He has an assist to turnover ratio of 0.67, which isn’t exactly great. Just for a quick comparison, Nurkic’s ratio this season was 1.67. Whiteside isn’t exactly someone you want distributing for your club.

I put these three videos all right in a row for two reasons: They were easy to find in a game where Whiteside had five turnovers, and they all show the kinds of bad plays that happen far too often when he’s both on and off the ball. He either doesn’t control the ball or sets a clearly illegal screen (screen-setting was not a strength of Whiteside’s this year). And while his lack of awareness offensively didn’t totally stagnate Portland’s offense, it was significant how much more efficient it was with Nurkic out there.

So now that we have all this information laid out before us, what should Portland do with Whiteside? The Blazers have three options: Sign him to a much smaller deal, let him walk, or put together a sign-and-trade. The most likely scenarios are the first two discussed, but the sign-and-trade is probably most intriguing. However, as Dave Deckard talked about last week, that’s no easy task, with problems surrounding the cap, sign-and-trade rules and Whiteside’s general market appeal making it difficult.

I mentioned this last week, but if I were in Neil Olshey’s position, I would happily let Whiteside walk. There are too many stretches on the court where he is notably absent, and during those stretches the mistakes pile up. He’ll chase a block that he shouldn’t and then come down on the other end only to turn it over due to a general lack of awareness. When your only goal is to chase every block and rebound, you’re bound to have some positive plays, but too often it comes at the expense of team success.

This also goes without mentioning that there are center options out there that are not only better but most likely cheaper. For example, Daniel Theis is not the world’s best center, but he was good enough to start for a conference finals team at only $5 million. He’s not available, but others are. I even wrote about how moving Collins to center could be potentially beneficial. You can almost always find a more fiscally responsible option.

But that’s just what I would do if I was in Olshey’s position. Ultimately, it’ll be up to him whether or not Whiteside wears a Blazer uniform in 2021. If he chooses to re-sign him, then he’ll just have to take the good with the bad. You know you can get an almost guaranteed double-double from him and a few blocks a game, but box score numbers don’t always translate into wins. To me, that doesn’t seem like the best option.