Hassan Whiteside says there’s a simple explanation as to why the offensive side of his game has taken off this preseason.
“I'm just getting more shots than what I got last year,” the Heat’s $98 million center said Tuesday after he scored 21 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked four shots in 23 minutes in a 121-100 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
“It's a different team. It's just a lot different when there's so much space. I've got so much space down there and guys are throwing me the ball. I'm not just a pick-and-roll, lob guy. Guys are throwing me the ball and trusting me with the ball. So, it's a lot different.”
Everyone knew the Heat was going to be a different team this season without Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade and there would naturally be more opportunities for Whiteside to score. The question was — and remains going forward — whether the league’s leading shot blocker from a year ago can become a consistent and reliable scoring threat.
So far, Whiteside has thrived, shooting 71.3 percent from the field (he shot 60.6 percent last season) and averaging 19.3 points (he scored 14.2 per game last season) in only 26.4 minutes this preseason.
Although he has dished out only one assist in 73 minutes total, the Heat’s starting unit has gotten off to great starts in Miami’s three preseason games according to point guard Goran Dragic, with Whiteside hustling end to end and doing his part setting screens and leaving driving lanes open for his teammates to take advantage of.
Coach Erik Spoelstra said the team really isn’t running more plays for Whiteside, “he’s getting it all within the context of what we’re doing.”
“He knows if he runs he's going to get the ball. That's the key,” said Dragic, who has assisted Whiteside on seven of his 25 baskets this preseason.
“We have a couple plays for him. But usually we just have great spacing. I feel like that's the key. If everybody goes to spots they're supposed to be, then ball is going to find the energy. Whitey is a big target inside the paint. When we see that the guy is behind him we need to throw the ball inside.”
The numbers suggest Whiteside is getting open a lot more than he was last year. Thus far this preseason, he has been assisted on 76 percent of his baskets. Last season, Whiteside made 66.1 percent of his baskets on assists.
While Whiteside’s usage rate (26.8%) and field-goal attempts (11.6) are up from last season when Miami used him 20.5 percent of the time and he averaged 9.3 field goal attempts in 29.1 minutes per game, his overall shooting percentage is also up.
Whiteside has taken 25 of his 35 shots in the restricted area or inside the paint and made 22 of those shots — a whopping 88 percent field-goal percentage. He's also 8 of 15 on jump shots (53.3%) overall.
Last season, Whiteside made 74.4 percent of his shots in the restricted area and 44.6 percent in the paint. He shot 42 percent on jumpers.
“I've got like one or two plays,” Whiteside said. “The majority of [my baskets], I'd say about 85 percent, the ball just finds me. The [defenders] can't really leave the shooters as much as they used to. Last year it was more pack the paint, pack the paint and I was just getting bowling balled like pins getting knocked all over the place when I rolled.”
Whiteside said he’s consciously thinking of setting up plays for teammates and calls it part of his maturation process. Spoelstra said he feels like Whiteside has gotten better month-to-month and week-to-week since the Heat picked him up off the D-League scrap heap 23 months ago.
Spoelstra has also complimented Whiteside a lot on his conditioning and his hustle, noting he has had to take Whiteside out once for fatigue. Whiteside said he hasn’t felt fatigued once this preseason and credits it to making sure he was involved in team workouts back in early August.
Whiteside said games “feel a little bit easier than practice.”
“I came back super early. Right after I signed my contract, I think I came back [to Miami] two weeks later,” Whiteside said in a private moment with the Miami Herald. “These guys know I'm committed to being the best Hassan Whiteside I can be. They believe and trust in me with the contract they gave me.
“I'm just going to keep playing the way I've been playing because they've seen something in me and they like it. Really, I’m just trying to infuse wins into the team. That's the biggest thing they care about -- winning.”