Before he checked back into the game and picked up his third foul of the first half on Thursday night, Hassan Whiteside walked over to the scorer’s table and let Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd, who was standing only a few feet away, in on a little secret.
“Hey, Jason Kidd, you were one of my favorite point guards growing up,” the Heat’s 7-foot, 265-pound center told Kidd, a 10-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA first-team selection with the Mavericks, Suns, Nets and Knicks. “I just wanted you to know that.”
By the time the Heat was done rallying from an early 14-point deficit and putting an end to a six-game losing streak with a dominating fourth quarter led by Whiteside’s 12 points, seven blocks and 17 rebounds, Kidd and several of his players had a newfound respect for Whiteside.
“I think it’s a great example for our young team to understand that you can get in foul trouble and still have an impact on the game,” Kidd said of Whiteside, who after playing only 7 minutes and 32 seconds in the first half scored 10 points, collected 13 rebounds and set a team half record with seven blocked shots over the final two quarters while not committing a personal foul.
Said Bucks forward Michael Beasley, who had one of his shots swatted by Whiteside: “That’s why he gets paid. He’s smart out there. He knows exactly where to go get the ball for blocked shots, even challenging shots. He’s a force, and I don’t think he gets enough credit.”
If you haven’t noticed, the guy who didn’t get a single vote for the league’s best center in the preseason general manager vote and received only one vote for best interior defender, is finally starting to get some love from around the league.
DeMarcus Cousins, who won a gold medal this summer with Team USA and was Whiteside’s teammate in Sacramento, had high praise for him before the Kings’ most recent visit here. Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap, who watched Whiteside post a season-high 25 rebounds on Tuesday, recently called the Heat center “a load.”
After signing a four-year, $98 million deal last summer, Whiteside has been all that and more. Not only is he leading the league in rebounding with 16 per game, he’s leading the Heat in scoring (17.6) and anchoring the No. 1 field-goal defense in the league (41.5 percent).
Miami ranks third in overall team defensive rating (97.5) behind the teams with the two best records in the league, the Clippers (94.6) and Hawks (95.1), and leads the league in rim protection defense (44.3) by more than three percentage points.
Among the 58 players who have defended at least 50 shots at the rim, only the Spurs’ Lamarcus Aldridge (35.2 percent) has a better percentage at the rim denying opponents than Whiteside (36.6 percent).
Whiteside’s rebounding numbers alone are on pace to join exclusive company. Not only is he on pace to crush Rony Seikaly’s franchise record for the best rebounding season (11.8 per game), there are only five players in the league since 1980 who have averaged more than 15 rebounds in a season: Dennis Rodman, Kevin Willis, Ben Wallace, Moses Malone and Kevin Love. Only Love (2010-11), Willis (1991-92) and Malone (1982-83) also averaged at least 18 points per game.
“As someone who is really imposing his will on games, what he’s doing in some ways is unprecedented,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Whiteside prior to Thursday night’s victory over the Bucks.
“He’s really learning what it means to shoulder big-time responsibility. When you put yourself out there and you still fall short, as a leader, I’ve seen it, a player goes through stages of, ‘Wow. I just gave everything I have and it’s not enough.’ So do you have more? As somebody as talented as that, I love seeing when guys really start to understand what the responsibility of your play is to help impact a win. He’s starting to see it. He really is.”
What Whiteside did Thursday night, succeeding despite early foul trouble, was just the next step in his evolution, Spoelstra said.
Now, with 10 of the team’s next 13 games on the road and an easier slate of opponents ahead than at the start of the season, Whiteside sees Miami’s four-game trip that begins Saturday in Washington as an opportunity to improve upon the team’s 3-8 record.
“Let’s build on it,” Whiteside said of Thursday’s win. “Like I told you last game, we weren’t playing bad teams. We were losing to top-tier teams. That’s not an excuse. That’s not anything besides saying we’re one of those teams, and I really believe that. I really believe we’re one of the top teams. We can play with them.”
Saturday: Heat at Wizards
When/where: 7 p.m.; Verizon Center, Washington.
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).
Series: Heat leads 75-38.
Scouting report: Forward Justise Winslow (sprained left wrist) is questionable for the Heat after missing the past two games. … The Wizards made a season-high 15 three-pointers in their win over the Knicks on Thursday. … Washington knocked off Atlanta (9-2) at home earlier this season.