Dave George: Hassan Whiteside has established himself with gritty play


Seven games to go in his first full season as a starter and we still don’t understand exactly who or what Hassan Whiteside is.

Surely I misjudged him, wondering at least to some extent if the big guy would behave like a minnow after getting a whale’s contract last summer.

You know, getting frustrated when the diminished Miami Heat got stuck in a losing rut. Taking opportunities to rest rather than playing through injuries. Showing more immaturity on occasion than leadership.

Take a look at him now. Whiteside is tied for the league lead in rebounding at 14.0 per game. The season bests for other notable hulks in Miami were 11.8 for Rony Seikaly, 11.0 for Alonzo Mourning and 10.4 for Shaquille O’Neal.

No Heat player has more than Whiteside’s 70 starts this year, and only Goran Dragic is close at 66.

Hassan’s scoring is up to a career-best 16.8 points per game. That’s barely below what Chris Bosh, one of the Big Three, did during his time in Miami, and Bosh is a far more polished offensive player.

The blocked shots are down at 2.1 per game, but that’s because Whiteside is switching more on defense and chasing numbers less. Either way, he’s still top-five in the league in that intimidating category.

Now here’s the part that speaks even more to Hassan’s increasingly heavy lifting.

The low point of Miami’s season, that dismal 11-30 number you keep hearing? Hassan went out the next game and put up a double-double against the powerful Houston Rockets. Rather than checking out mentally, he helped in that way to start a totally unexpected 13-game win streak.

Go back a little more, to a game in December when Hassan was as dominant as a 7-footer can be (32 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks) but the Heat lost anyway to an Orlando team that was lousy then and has only gotten worse.

That double-overtime nightmare dropped Miami to 9-20, painting a picture of draft lottery talk to come, but Whiteside bounced back to produce double-double efforts in the next two games and has kept fighting no matter the circumstances, with or without Dion Waiters, with or without the Dragon.

We’re talking 26 points and 20 rebounds in a January loss at Golden State. Nineteen and 19 in a February loss at Dallas. Twenty-six and 21 a few weeks ago in a loss at Indiana.

And, in the four games since opening a cut in his shooting hand that required 13 stitches, Whiteside has turned in a couple of double-doubles and won a crucial game at Detroit with a tip-in at the buzzer.

So much for pampering injuries. Even Udonis Haslem, Miami’s enforcer on the court and in the locker room, has addressed the team to laud Whiteside’s new and grittier edge.

It’s more than a badge of honor to get UD’s approval. More like a shield to be raised against all challengers.

There will be plenty of those in the sliver of a regular season that remains. Elbows definitely get sharper when teams are on the verge of elimination.

After that, if there are playoffs for Miami, Whiteside has the memory of being lost to a sprained knee in Game 3 of a second-round playoff loss to Toronto. Kyle Lowry got a loose-ball foul for pulling Whiteside’s arm on the play, which is among the gentler things that might happen in a postseason scrum.

How will he respond? All signs are positive, or at least as much as they can be for a star who has played so little.

Going into Friday’s game with the New York Knicks at AmericanAirlines Arena, Whiteside has just 145 NBA starts. That’s only five more than James Johnson, the 6-foot-9 Heat teammate who is playing for his sixth team in eight NBA seasons.

Heck, 145 career starts is fewer than Josh McRoberts. When you’re still catching up to McBob, who seemingly could dislocate a finger while clapping on the bench and sprain an ankle jumping up to cheer, that’s saying something.

Whatever happens to Whiteside and all the rest, it would be a real shame if Miami doesn’t finally get back to .500 on Friday against the Knicks. To do so at 38-38 would give the Heat the astounding record of 27-8 since their horrible start.

That’s an incredible pace for any 35-game stretch. At the start of this season, when everybody was still fresh, only two teams topped it, with Golden State opening at 30-5 and San Antonio at 28-7. LeBron James and the Cavaliers? They were 27-8 out of the gate.

Doesn’t mean that Miami is going to challenge for an NBA title, but it does point to Whiteside as the long-term centerpiece of what is becoming a winning franchise again.

Not a pretender. Not a pouter. A solid return, instead, on the faith that Pat Riley demonstrated in him back when Dwyane Wade was the only name anyone trusted around here.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Sports

Ole Miss football coach made phone call to number tied to escort service
Ole Miss football coach made phone call to number tied to escort service

University of Mississippi football coach Hugh Freeze announced his resignation Thursday night after school officials cited personal conduct issues that included a one-minute telephone call to a number associated with a female escort service, USA Today reported. >> Read more trending news The phone call was raised as a potential issue in a legal...
Kyrie Irving reportedly wants out of Cleveland, and the Miami Heat are a ‘preferred landing spot’
Kyrie Irving reportedly wants out of Cleveland, and the Miami Heat are a ‘preferred landing spot’

MIAMI — Just when you thought the NBA offseason frenzy was winding down, it took just one tweet for things to ramp up again. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst tweeted Friday afternoon that point guard Kyrie Irving asked the Cavaliers to trade him during a meeting with Cleveland management last week. “Irving has expressed that he...
With Kiffin bringing spotlight to FAU, Al-Shaair ready to perform
With Kiffin bringing spotlight to FAU, Al-Shaair ready to perform

Azeez Al-Shaair echoes his teammates in saying the hiring of Lane Kiffin as FAU’s new coach this offseason is a huge positive. “It’s been really good for the team, gives everybody a little bit more energy, a little bit more life,” Al-Shaair, a junior linebacker, said during Conference USA Football Kick Off this week. &ldquo...
Dave George: Udonis Haslem deserving of Heat roster spot
Dave George: Udonis Haslem deserving of Heat roster spot

Let somebody else fret over the $2.3 million that the Miami Heat are spending to bring Udonis Haslem back for a 15th season with the team. My response to it is a smile. And then a sneer, followed by an intimidating stare meant to burn a hole through any sign of uncertainty. That’s the way Udonis does it. Well, almost. People don’t laugh...
Something strange in Usain Bolt’s stride
Something strange in Usain Bolt’s stride

Usain Bolt of Jamaica appeared on a video screen in a white singlet and black tights, sprinting in slow motion through the final half of a 100-meter race. Each stride covered nine feet, his upper body moving up and down almost imperceptibly, his feet striking the track and rising so rapidly that his heels did not touch the ground. Bolt is the fastest...
More Stories