Drafted by the Sacramento Kings in the 2nd round of the 2010 NBA Draft, Hassan Whiteside would see stints in the D-League with the Reno Bighorns before being waived by the Kings, in China and Lebanon, and a month with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2014 before being picked up by the Miami Heat and assigned to their D-League affiliate-Sioux Falls Skyforce. It didn’t take them long to figure out he was head and shoulders above his D-League contemporaries as he was recalled two days later.
As fans and players in high school, junior college and college, many of us have been taught that the very best players in the NBA are just inherently better than their bench riding brethren, and possess skills and abilities that are far and away better than those who toil overseas and in the D-League; but every year there arrives someone from the fringes of professional basketball respectability to shock the world with their unexpected mastery of this game we all know and love.
It seems that these basketball free radicals appear spontaneously throughout the league on teams that are struggling through a personnel vacuum of some sort. For the Miami Heat, that vacuum was obvious as the departure of SF LeBron James for the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as early season injuries to both PF Chris Bosh and SG Dwyane Wade.
Despite the early struggles suffered by the Miami Heat, head coach Erik Spoelstra still wasn’t aware of the full potential of the 7 ft, 236 pound Hassan Whiteside. Despite Miami losing 11 of its first 20 games of the season, Whiteside was used sparingly and in specific situations, splitting time with veteran center Chris “Birdman” Anderson. However, Whiteside would make the most of his limited minutes when he was on the floor.
Hassan wouldn’t play for more than 6 minutes until the 14th game of the season, tallying 6 points, 7 rebounds and 1 blocked shot in 15 minutes versus the Washington Wizards. But he wouldn’t see comparable playing time until four games later.
Still not a mainstay in the regular rotation due in some part to Spoelstra being so enamored with a free flowing offense that most NBA teams prefer, Whiteside would continue to outwork his contemporaries in practice until he finally began to curry the favor of his head coach.
“This kid has always had an immense amount of talent,” former agent Brian Samuels told Sports Illustrated. “He just needed to wrap his head around the idea that this was a full-time job. Back then, I don’t think he was there yet.”
Though he would appear on a few highlight reels, his numbers were pretty average, with the exception of blocked shots. Then the new year started and that’s when things really got serious. A 14 point, 6 rebound game against the Houston Rockets was quickly followed by an 11 point, 10 rebound, 5 block against the Brooklyn Nets, a 10 point, 8 rebound, 4 blocked shot performance against the Portland Trailblazers and a 23 point, 16 rebound, 2 blocked shot performance against the Los Angeles Clippers. What do these teams have in common? Each has a solid center patrolling the paint in the form of Dwight Howard (Houston), Brooke Lopez (Brooklyn), Robin Lopez (Portland) and DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers). What do these teams have in common? Each has a solid center patrolling the paint in the form of Dwight Howard (Houston), Brooke Lopez (Brooklyn), Robin Lopez (Portland) and DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers).
Whiteside has logged more minutes nearing the halfway mark of this season than he did during his two-year stint in Sacramento, a period in which he logged fewer than 20 games behind PF/C DeMarcus Cousins, C Samuel Dalembert and PF Jason Thompson.
Though it might seem as if Whiteside’s arrival is without precedent, his recent success has more to do with perseverance, patience and hard work.
As if the way the respectable manner in which he competed against some of the best centers the NBA has to offer wasn't enough, Whiteside would put up a megalithic, Russell-esque triple-double performance against the formidable frontline of the Chicago Bulls of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocks and 16 points and a 24 rebound, 3 block game in a loss to Tyson Chandler and the Dallas Mavericks. His 20-20 double-double versus the Minnesota Timberwolves was the first such stat line put up by a Miami player since Shaquille O’Neal roamed the paint in South Beach in 2004.
In this day and age, hyperbole for the sake of dramatization is all the rage in most news mediums. However, Whiteside has some people comparing him to a young David Robinson, people like ESPN’s Michael Wallace on the Big O Show on WQAM-Miami.
“They can’t believe it, because these are the same guys that saw him coming into the league in the draft,” Wallace said on the Big O Show on WQAM. “They saw him flame out of the league a year or so ago and go back to the [D League] and around the world and now they’re seeing a completely different version.”
“One guy was like ‘this guy is looking like a young version of David Robinson out here.'”
According to Draft Express, Whiteside’s weakness coming out of high school was weak lower body strength relative to his frame and an underdeveloped physique overall. Despite that, he dominated with his 7 foot, 7 inch wingspan. Weighing 220 pounds when entering the draft out of Marshall University, Hassan would put on 16 pounds of solid muscle and work feverishly on a myriad of agility and strengthening drills prior to this season. What we’re witnessing now is the culmination of years of hard work.
He has played professionally in a virtual war zone in Lebanon and never quite felt at ease while playing in China. One can tell by his recent play that he developed an “NBA or Bust” mentality somewhere between his most recent overseas stops.
His story is proof positive that the lionhearted will always make the most out of a second chance, and it would appear as though very few people have a heart as big as Whiteside’s, literally and figuratively.