Hassan Whiteside’s 7-foot, 265-pound frame allows him to do some impressive things on the court.
But what the Heat asked its big men to do more of during his absence didn’t require a lot of physical strength.
While Whiteside was out for 13 games as he rehabbed a couple of bone bruises in his left knee, he watched as centers Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo handled the ball in the Heat’s offense more and became distributors more often.
“The game changed,” Whiteside said after Thursday’s practice. “The big man controls the game a little more. He’s putting it in the center’s hands or big’s hands or whatever ya’ll want to call it, into their hands more.”
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Whiteside, who hasn’t had more than one assist in a game this season, has six overall. His career-high in a game is three. But he said he loves the change.
“I love it all,” Whiteside said. “You really feel involved. I love the way that they’re flashing the bigs and letting them distribute the ball more.”
Olynyk was already an effective distributor, ranked seventh in assists in the NBA among 7-foot centers (2.1 per game).
Adebayo, the Heat’s 6-10 rookie, has shown some prowess in that category posting four or more assists in each of his past three games and averaging 1.5 assists while Whiteside was out.
Whiteside played only 17 minutes and 42 seconds in his first game back, Tuesday against the Magic, with the Heat keeping him on a minutes restriction until he works his way back completely from the injury. He finished with 7 points, 8 rebounds. He did not have an assist.
In addition to Olynyk’s 15 points and 12 rebounds against the Magic, he set five screen assists for his teammates in 31 minutes.
Adebayo had a team-leading nine screen assists and eight deflections in 25-plus minutes to go along with his 8 points and 9 rebounds off the bench.
“You’re going to get assists when you handle the ball more,” Whiteside said. “It’s just part of the game. He’s putting it into the big’s hands more. I was sitting alongside [Heat assistant coach] Juwan [Howard] and just seeing that. It’s not as much pick-and-roll as much as it was. It’s more handoffs, bigs flashing to the elbows, that sort of stuff.”
Whiteside’s teammates believe he will adjust his game to fit the new style.
“Yeah it will definitely be an adjustment because I don’t know if he’s ever played like that before,” Josh Richardson said. “I think he’s a good player and he’s a smart player so he can figure it out. He already wants to be on the perimeter so we’ll see how it works. I think it’ll be good.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t specify whether Whiteside’s minutes would increase in Friday’s home game against the Nets.
Whiteside said his pain level was “a 1 or 2” on a scale of 1-10, and that he feels ready to play more.
“Today’s practice, we got up and down a lot,” Whiteside said. “I did a conditioning test before I played a game. So I just be going up and down so much, so I feel like I can play a lot more.”
Because of multiple factors such as holidays, travel and injuries to key players, the Heat’s practice Thursday was its first full workout in roughly two weeks.
“We tried to take advantage of everything,” Spoelstra said. “We had a good mini-break for the holiday and guys were able to spend a little bit of time away from the gym. Some guys were able to just get the needed rest to help with injuries.”
The NBA started its season a week earlier this season and limited the number of back-to-back games hoping to give its players more time to rest. As a result, there have been fewer opportunities to conduct full practices.
“It’s been an adjustment, but not only for us, but for everybody,” Spoelstra said. “We’re all dealing with the same thing. Your shootarounds and film sessions and team meetings become that much more important.”
Veteran Udonis Haslem praised Spoelstra’s ability to adjust to the new schedule.
“I think Spo’s done a great job of managing everything,” Haslem said. “And the way technology is today, with all these different sciences on how to preserve players, reserve players and revive players, you know, we’re tapping into all those things scientifically, too.”
Spoelstra said James Johnson (right ankle) participated in only a portion of the practice, Justise Winslow (strained knee) did some light work, and Dion Waiters (ankle) was held out completely. All three were listed as out for Friday’s game.
Rodney McGruder continued to do individual drills, but Spoelstra said the team will remain patient as he rehabs from left tibia surgery.
"He's progressing," Spoelstra said. "We're definitely not trying to fast-track him. So the most important thing for him is to stay patient. We know how consistent relentless he’ll be with his work, work ethic. We also have to be very smart about it."