Hassan Whiteside has had nights when he hasn’t provided the kind of effort that leaves coach Erik Spoelstra feeling satisfied.
Then, Whiteside has the kind of nights he had Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors, when he dominates so thoroughly — scoring 28 points and grabbing 20 rebounds — it only validates the $98 million commitment Pat Riley and the Heat made to him this summer.
It’s maddening really … the kind of stuff that makes you understand why a spokesman for the organization said Tuesday the team is not actively shopping Whiteside while at the same time not exactly denying it at least listens when other teams call and inquire about his availability as this rebuilding season continues to spiral toward the lottery.
Is it too much to expect Whiteside to play like this every night?
“No,” Spoelstra said after the Heat fought the 33-6 Warriors hard for four quarters before Miami’s lack of firepower caught up with it in a 107-95 loss.
“This is what he signed up for,” Spoelstra continued. “Those are the expectations that we have for him. He’s shown enough times this year that he’s capable of it. We’ve always said, ‘Greatness is consistency. Night in, night out.’ And against different competition — great competition — sometimes there’s going to be big centers, proven centers. Sometimes, there’s going be dynamic space lineup like you saw [against the Warriors].
“But when he plays at an extremely high level, we’re a good basketball team. Even with all the moving parts, we can compete against every team in this league when he’s like that.”
Whiteside, 27, has only played in 176 regular-season NBA games. Tuesday’s performance marked the fifth time in his career that he’s had at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, there are only seven other players since the start of the 1983-84 season who have posted that many 20-20 games through their first 176 games: Shaquille O’Neal (15), Hakeem Olajuwon (10), Charles Barkley (7), Kevin Love (6), Dwight Howard (5), David Robinson (5) and Nikola Vucevic (5).
Four of those guys are in the Hall of Fame and Howard, who has 46 career 20-20 games, is likely headed there, too.
Whiteside, who led the league in blocks last season and now leads it in rebounding (14.4 per game) while averaging 17.5 points and 2.2 blocks per game, said last month he feels like he should be considered a franchise player. Riley has stopped short of calling him that, saying Whiteside is “on his way to becoming” a franchise player.
Whiteside has said his “off nights” are usually when he doesn’t feel healthy or his body is worn down. Tuesday against the Warriors, Whiteside was highly motivated and sharp, making 13 of 17 field-goal attempts and playing with energy from start to finish.
“I just try to come out here every game and try to give the same effort,” he said. “Some games are better than others. My teammates, they made it easier for me. They threw a couple of lobs in there, and they did a great job of just getting in the paint, especially Dion [Waiters] and James [Johnson]. They’re a great tandem getting in that paint in there, and they threw it up to me a couple of times and made my job easier.”
Spoelstra said he could tell Whiteside, who was playing in his second game back from injury (he missed four games with a bruised retina in his right eye), was zeroed in at practice.
“He had a very good practice [Monday], a very good shootaround [Tuesday morning], a good film session,” Spoelstra said. “He came ready and prepared. I thought he was very impactful, and you could see it on both ends of the court. And there’s still another level he needs to get to to get us over the hump. That’s the details all the way through, you know, at the beginning of the third quarter and then down the stretch. But he sure is working at it, and that’s what I really like about it.”
The issue for the Heat and Whiteside is getting that consistent focus and effort every night — the kind franchise players bring to the court more often than they leave it at home.
It’s clear Riley and the Heat believe Whiteside has the potential to do that.
But the fact they are at least willing to answer the phone and listen to potential suitors shows they aren’t exactly 100 percent convinced Whiteside will be that franchise cornerstone.
When the Heat traded for O’Neal, the one player Riley was never willing to give up was Dwyane Wade. For now, at least, that untouchable guy doesn’t appear to be on the roster.