Hassan Whiteside is on the verge of becoming the first Heat player to win a league rebounding title — a season after leading the league in blocks.
He has set the franchise record for double-doubles this season, and the only other previous Heat centers to have better years in terms of win shares are Hall of Famers Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal, who each earned All-NBA honors in their best seasons with Miami.
And yet, Whiteside, 27, is no lock to earn the same kind of recognition this season when All-NBA teams and the rest of the league’s top awards are announced during a ceremony June 26 in New York.
When it comes to players listed as having played center more than 60 percent of the time, according to basketball-reference.com, Whiteside ranks sixth this season in win shares (9.1) behind Utah’s Rudy Gobert (14.1), Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (12.2), Clippers All-Star DeAndre Jordan (11.3), Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis (11.0) and Denver’s Nikola Jokic (9.2).
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Other candidates include four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and Memphis’ Marc Gasol.
Statistically speaking, Whiteside’s 10.3 win shares last season (the third-best in Heat history among centers) are more than this season’s total, which ranks fifth. But in his coach’s eyes, Whiteside is a much improved player this season worthy of league-wide recognition.
“I would say this has been by far his best year,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of his $98 million center on Monday after shootaround. “That goes kind of like even without a discussion. What he’s done in the second half of the season, even after the New Year, really impacting winning, hey, I’d put him up there against any center these last 50 games.”
Among centers, Whiteside ranks ninth in scoring (16.8 points per game), third in blocks (2.1) and 11th in defensive win shares, according to stats.NBA.com. Spoelstra said Whiteside, who finished third in the Defensive Player of the Year vote last season, has vastly improved on that side of the court this season, even if his block numbers are down.
The Heat ranks eighth in defensive field-goal percentage at the rim (51.9 percent). Miami was eighth last season at 50.9 percent.
“I’d put him up there in any discussion in Defensive Player of the Year these last 50 games,” Spoelstra said. “He would be my vote because he’s impacted it in a huge way at the rim, in the paint. His pick-and-roll defense has improved so much. He’s much more nuanced with his approach with that. He’s allowed us to build a great defense.
“If [earning All-NBA honors] doesn’t happen [now], it’s on the horizon. Bigger and better things are right around the corner. But it all comes within the context of helping us win, and he’s starting to really understand that now.”
Said teammate James Johnson of Whiteside: “His want to [win] is way greater than what it was last year.”
Whiteside said he feels like he’s put an “amazing stretch” together this season.
“It’s been a different year for me with shot blocking and just different things and learning different positions on the court,” he said. “I definitely think it’s been a really great stretch for me in a Heat uniform.
“I believe we’re one or two or top three teams in defending the pick-and-roll. That right there in a league today as great as these guards are, that’s not an easy feat. So I’m very proud of that.”
Point guard Goran Dragic said the way Whiteside defends the pick-and-roll is much different this season than in the past.
“He’s really out there, he’s not zoning anymore and like two or three steps back,” Dragic said. “He’s really impacting the ball and that’s the hardest thing to do as a point guard. Come out of the screen and if the big guy is up, you need to make the decision and sometimes you’re under big pressure.
“If you look, basketball has really changed. A lot of teams don’t play with those typical centers and we are. Whitey is impacting the game in all aspects, defense and offensively. I think he should win Defensive Player of the Year and the first All-NBA team. Why not? He’s putting those numbers every night, and he’s come a long way. He’s a great player.”
Best seasons by a Heat center in franchise history
Alonzo Mourning 1999-00 (12.9 win shares, 21.7 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 3.7 bpg — All-NBA 2nd team)
Shaquille O’Neal 2004-05 (11.0 win shares, 22.9 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.3 bpg — All-NBA 1st team)
Hassan Whiteside 2015-16 (10.3 win shares, 14.2 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 3.7 bpg — Was not named to All-NBA team)
Alonzo Mourning 1995-96 (9.9 win shares, 23.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.7 bpg — Was not named to All-NBA team)
Hassan Whiteside 2016-17 (9.1 win shares, 16.8 ppg, 14.0 rpg, 2.1 bpg — TBA)