Miami Heat

Summer school is in as Heat’s Hassan Whiteside aims to improve

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside fights for position against Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, left, and Patrick Patterson at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Saturday, April 11, 2015.
Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside fights for position against Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, left, and Patrick Patterson at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Saturday, April 11, 2015. El Nuevo Herald

Hassan Whiteside does not want to talk about passing the ball. Why pass the ball when you can dunk the ball, right?

As he gladly will tell you, the Heat’s second-year center is a proficient dunker of the basketball, and he enjoys it.

“Dunking on people,” as he first stated when he joined the Heat, was more or less his singular offensive focus last season, and he still likes talking about his affinity for dunks months later.

As for passing, what’s the big deal? He’s not a point guard. Sure, Whiteside had just six assists in 48 games last season, but, like he said Friday, “A lot of times I think the assists can be deceiving.”

“A lot of times, I was dunking the ball, or I was three feet from the basket,” Whiteside said. “I mean, I like how you didn’t mention the field-goal percentage, but I’ll take that.”

In other words, one more question about passing and you, too, might get dunked on.

It’s Whiteside’s swaggering attitude and aggressive nature around the rim that earned him a second chance in the NBA last year, and that same set of skills catapulted him into the starting lineup for a desperate Heat team. It’s assumed that Whiteside’s uncommon abilities at 7-feet tall will make him a very rich man next summer.

Whether or not it’s the Heat that pays Whiteside remains to be seen, and that might have a lot to do with how much he develops this season. After all the twists and turns of his young career, Whiteside is back on track and entering a contract year.

His ability to pass out of the post probably won’t decide his future, but a willingness to learn could be important.

So far, he’s putting in the work.

The large majority of projected starters in the NBA don’t tag along with their team’s summer-league squads just to practice and work with assistant coaches.

But that’s exactly what Whiteside is doing this week.

On Friday, he practiced with the Heat’s summer-league team at AmericanAirlines Arena, and he will be with the Heat during the summer-league circuit, which begins Saturday in Orlando before moving out to Las Vegas.

To be clear, Whiteside isn’t playing in any summer leagues. He’s too important to risk injury in games designed for league executives to identity young talent.

Whiteside will only be in Orlando and Las Vegas to practice, learn the rhythms of coach Erik Spoelstra’s offense and immerse himself in the team’s defensive principles.

“To drill our system,” Spoelstra said. “He was not part of our training camp this year, so this is a miniature version for him to get a ton of reps in five practices. And he has responded well.

“He is in very good shape.”

Whiteside had a powerful physique last season, but he has added even more muscle to his frame over the past two months. There is no question that he will be a defensive force for the Heat next season.

Offensively, Whiteside’s three stated areas of improvement this summer are “taking my time in the post, free throws and turnaround jumpers.”

As for passing, he’s not worried about that. It will come naturally.

“It just comes with chemistry,” he said.

ETC.

Although Whiteside isn’t participating in the summer leagues, the Heat will have an intriguing team filled with players who could be on the roster come October.

Rookie draft pick Justise Winslow, who signed with the Heat on Friday, will be making is debut in Orlando.

In the backcourt, Tyler Johnson will be playing plenty of point guard while Shabazz Napier recovers from offseason surgery to correct a sports hernia. If Johnson can make the transition to point guard, it would help his chances of contributing next season.

Napier will sit out a game at 9 a.m. on Saturday against the Pacers but could be available on Sunday for a 5 p.m. game against the Nets.

Forward James Ennis has devoted this summer to improving his ball-handling skills. Last season was an adjustment for him after playing in Australia, but he hopes to be better prepared for NBA defenses next season.

Summer-league games are available through the NBA’s Summer League Live package, which is $14.99 and available at www.nba.com/summerleaguelive.

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