Even in suffering one of its most exasperating losses of the season Wednesday against the Lakers, there was one constant: the usual double-double from Hassan Whiteside, his 17th in 20 games since the All-Star break, all off the bench.
When Whiteside, who had 18 points, 17 rebounds and 7 blocks Wednsesday, returns to Northern California on Friday night to play a Kings team that gave up on him four years ago, Sacramento naturally will be leery of his shot-blocking (first in the league at 3.75) and rebounding (fourth at 11.8).
But like every team that has played the Heat in recent weeks, the Kings also must now be concerned about his flourishing offensive game.
Whiteside scored 29 points combined in his first two NBA seasons, as a seldom-used backup in Sacramento. It took him just two games this week to score 47.
Whiteside’s offensive evolution has been one of many fascinating subplots of the post All-Star break Heat. When TNT’s Charles Barkley spoke earlier this season of Whiteside being about to average 20 points a game, Chris Bosh said even 18 per game for Whiteside, with a full roster, would be unrealistic because of the Heat’s myriad scoring options.
But with Bosh sidelined, Whiteside has averaged 18.5 points on 62.0 percent shooting since the break, including a career-high 27 Monday against Brooklyn.
That post-All Star break scoring average ranks sixth among centers and 38th among all players. Before the All-Star break, he was scoring 12.2 points per game, 13th among centers.
“I’m glad I got the opportunity, glad I get to show a little extra offensive things,” said Whiteside, whose 61.8 percent accuracy from the field ranks second in the NBA, behind only DeAndre Jordan’s 70.2.
A look at several aspects of Whiteside’s offensive growth:
▪ Jump shots: He’s shooting 45.3 percent overall on jumpers but 51.2 percent since the break, including 54.3 percent from five to nine feet (25 for 46), 50 percent from 10 to 14 feet (9 for 18), 43.8 percent from 15 to 19 feet (14 for 32) and 2 for 3 from 20 to 23 feet.
Whiteside said taking 250 jumpers a day much of last summer helped.
▪ Hook shots: He has shot far fewer of those (110) than jumpers (192). He’s making 44 percent of his hooks and has been studying tape of Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon because “they never shot an off-balance jump hook.” He’s working on developing a pump fake on his hook.
▪ Dunks: Whiteside flubs fewer dunks that any other high-volume dunker in the league. Whiteside, fifth in the league in dunks, has missed only three of 139. Conversely, Jordan and Anthony Davis have missed 19 dunks and Dwight Howard 15.
▪ Free throws. His improvement there is his biggest source of pride offensively. He credits it largely to the change he made in mid-January after Udonis Haslem remarked how well he shot jumpers and said, half-jokingly, that he should shoot free throws like that.
Since he began shooting free throws like jumpers, Whiteside is shooting 75 percent from the line (105 for 140), though he was 6 for 12 against the Lakers. Before the All-Star break, he shot 51.8 on free throws.
▪ Passing: More growth is needed. His six assists last season were the fewest ever for an NBA player who played 500 minutes, compared with 58 turnovers.
This season, he’s up to 27 assists and 126 turnovers — the second-worst assist-to-turnover ratio among centers, ahead of only JaVale McGee. He is determined to improve on “passing it out of the double-team, and passing it for a score, not just passing it out.”
Whiteside will not have to face Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, who is averaging 27 points and 11.6 rebounds. Cousins received his 16th technical foul of the season Wednesday for sarcastically clapping near the end of the team's victory over the Wizards. The NBA upheld the ruling, which means Cousins will serve a one-game suspension Friday against the Heat.
▪ The Heat committed two many turnovers (18, leading to 30 Lakers points), missed 11 of 26 free throws and too often was beaten to loose balls and rebounds in Wednesday’s 102-100 overtime loss to the Lakers. Julius Randle’s eight-foot jumper with 1.9 seconds left in overtime won it. Joe Johnson was way off on a long three-pointer at the buzzer.
“I don’t like the way we approached this game,” said Dwyane Wade, who had 26 points and 10 rebounds but missed a 20-footer with two seconds left in regulation, sending the game to overtime. “It’s a bad loss for us…I look at it as disrespect to those guys. Those guys are NBA players. You have to play the same way you would an opponent that you fear.”
Said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: “You generally get what you deserve in this league. We did not deserve this game. Lot of mental breakdowns. This is not who we are. This is not how we’ve been playing.”
FRIDAY: HEAT AT KINGS
When/where: 10 p.m., Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790; WAQI 710.
Series: Miami leads 37-17.
Scouting report: The Heat won the previous meeting this season 116-109 on Nov. 19 behind 24 points from Dwyane Wade, 23 from Chris Bosh and 19 from Tyler Johnson.