Two months ago, Hassan Whiteside wasn’t even on an NBA roster.
Before Whiteside was signed by the Miami Heat on November 24, the 7-foot center had spent stints in the D-League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Iowa Energy. Sandwiched in between these stints was a day spent with the Memphis Grizzlies, before being waived one day later.
Fast forward less than two months later, and Whiteside is now a prominent member of the Heat’s rotation.
The 25-year-old center had played in just 19 career NBA games before this season, but he’s no rookie—the University of Marshall product entered the NBA in 2010 as a second-round draft pick.
“Nope! I still think he’s a rookie. I call him ‘rook.'”
The 7-foot center surely isn’t playing like one as of late. Whiteside posted the best NBA game of his career when he scored 11 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked five shots in Miami’s victory over Brooklyn.
Whiteside is appreciative of the playing time (27 minutes versus Brooklyn) he’s been receiving with the Heat as of late, as he stated following the win over the Nets:
“Each minute I’m given, I just want to build on it. This is the most I’ve played all season, and a couple weeks ago I wasn’t even playing.”
A few weeks ago, the former Grizzlie was barely receiving any playing time for the Heat. In his first 14 games with Miami, Whiteside played in just four games. He totaled just 25 minutes and scored 12 points with 11 rebounds and two blocks.
It was his performance in a 105-103 loss to the Washington Wizards on December 19 that made Erik Spoelstra and the Heat realize what he was truly capable of. In nearly helping Miami to a victory, Whiteside contributed six points, seven rebounds, one block and two steals in the defeat.
Since that game, the center has seen action in seven of the Heat’s past eight games. His playing time has steadily increased, seeing action in between 16-27 minutes per game over the past five contests.
When Spoelstra first met with Whiteside in November, he stressed development to the young 7-footer:
“He’ll tell you, my first meeting with him was about the work, about the commitment to player development, and that would be every single day.”
It would seem he has taken that to heart in his steady improvement over the past couple of weeks. In the 115-79 loss to the Houston Rockets on Saturday, Whiteside scored 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting while being regularly matched up with superstar center Dwight Howard.
Though Whiteside struggled in defending Howard (23 points on 9-of-13 shooting), it marked confidence in the young center’s development to match him up with a proven commodity such as D12.
It also doesn’t hurt when he’s making game-changing plays, such as his swat of a Deron Williams shot attempt midway through the fourth quarter in Miami’s victory over the Nets on Sunday. Whiteside reflected on his block of Williams following the game:
“It might not look like I’m there. But I’m there.”
For a Heat team that is absolutely decimated by injuries, every victory they can get from here on out at 15-20 is an important one. Whiteside’s contributions have been a positive in light of what has been a gloomy season thus far for the defending Eastern Conference champions.
The key from here on out is consistency for Whiteside. While he looks to have developed his niche in the rotation, players such as Shawne Williams and Shabazz Napier have been key contributors for the Heat this season, only to have seen their playing time dwindle due to a lack of consistency.
Napier has been sent to the D-League for fine tuning while Williams was kept out of the Heat’s previous game due to a coach’s decision.
For now though, Whiteside is basking in the moment considering he was clawing just to get back into the NBA just two months prior:
“Growing up, I always said I was going to be an NBA player. I didn’t even have a backup plan.”
If he continues to perform the way he’s been playing lately, Whiteside will be a player in the NBA for a long time to come.