If Hassan Whiteside has proven anything to the Miami Heat this season, it’s that they still want to see more — more consistent effort, more consistency overall, and more of the dominating interior presence he can be when he’s fully engaged.
Some days, coach Erik Spoelstra said, he sees that guy.
“Some days I think he needs to do more,” the Heat’s coach said Wednesday before the team left to begin a back-to-back set on the road against the Charlotte Hornets and Boston Celtics, two of the top four teams in the East. “That’s part of shouldering more responsibility and being in a role he’s never been in before.”
Although he’s leading the league in rebounds (14.7 per game) and ranks fifth in blocks (2.3 per game), seventh in scoring among centers in (17.8) and eighth overall in efficiency (behind only Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and DeMarcus Cousins), Tuesday’s performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder was another one of those that left Spoelstra thirsting for more from his $98-million center.
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Steven Adams and Enes Kanter took turns beating up the Heat inside, combining for 34 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks while Whiteside finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and no blocks (that’s only happened three times this season). Whiteside admitted afterward it “wasn’t a good game for me.” Then, he said, “but every game is not going to be great.”
Most of Whiteside’s worst games this season have come against other elite centers.
Back on Nov. 23, Whiteside had only six points, eight rebounds and one block in 25 minutes in a blowout loss to the Detroit Pistons and All-Star center Andre Drummond (18 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks). In a Dec. 7 loss at Atlanta, the Hawks’ Dwight Howard got the best of him, too. Whiteside had eight points, 12 rebounds and a block and Howard went for 23 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks.
Drummond and Howard arelikely Whiteside’s biggest competition for an All-Star nod this season.
“Every night Hassan has two or three people boxing him out,” guard Josh Richardson said after Tuesday’s loss. “He's allowed to not have a superstar game. He's our best player. He’s not going to play like a superstar every night. We have faith he'll be back next game.”
Although teammates are willing to accept a couple off nights, what Spoelstra, team president Pat Riley and others around the franchise don’t want to see is bad body language. Over the weekend, former Heat coach and TV analyst Ron Rothstein said on Heat Weekly that Whiteside “coasts a lot” and he doesn’t always see “maximum effort” from him.
Riley said last week while Whiteside “is on his way to becoming” a franchise player “to be a franchise player you have to be an all-of-the time franchise player.” Asked Wednesday, Spoelstra, who benched Whiteside in Cleveland two weeks ago for not playing with enough energy, said the notion his star center can often look disengaged is true.
“And that’s part of all the little things that he’s working on to improve,” he said. “That's your disposition, that’s your body language throughout all the emotions that happen through competition – when it’s going good, when it’s not going well, when our team’s dealing with frustration, etc., etc.
“The expectations are not high,” Spoelstra continued. “We want to push him to be the best version of himself.”
Whiteside said he gives maximum effort every night. But there are also nights where physically he feels limited.
“I think people get used to seeing the big numbers so when I don’t have big numbers, it’s like a big deal,” he said Wednesday.
To his credit, Whiteside is the only Heat player who has played in every game this season. He fought through knee soreness, bumps, bruises and is averaging 33.9 minutes per game — sixth-most among all centers in the league.
“I’ve been banged up some games,” he said Monday. “Some of my worst games I’ve been more hurt than others. I think that’s the one thing fans don’t understand, that guys are playing through injuries. It’s been a lot of days I haven’t been feeling well.”
Former Heat center Shaquille O’Neal, who has built a friendship with Whiteside over the last couple years and has mentored him at times, said last week Whiteside has shown a lot of growth and just needs to keep developing his game.
Then, in his next breath, the Hall of Famer said something that also spoke volumes about where maybe expectations for Whiteside should be.
“Ever since myself, D-Wade and LeBron left, the Miami people have been spoiled,” O’Neal said. “Right now, we don’t have a lot of mega stars on our team. But I know Pat and Erik, they’re going to make some moves. They always do. I would not be surprised if they get a big name guy come the trade deadline.”
Thursday: Heat at Hornets
When/where: 7 p.m., Spectrum Center, Charlotte, N.C.
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish)
Series: Heat leads 57-40
Scouting report: The Hornets, who won at Miami 97-91 back on Oct. 28, will be facing the Heat on the second night of a back-to-back. Goran Dragic (back spasms) made the trip with the team and will try to play after sitting out Tuesday’s loss to OKC.