How does Hassan Whiteside stack up against his contemporaries?

May 5, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) bumps into Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) in game two of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
May 5, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) bumps into Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) in game two of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

How does Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside’s numbers compare to other big time centers in their first two seasons?

The Miami Heat made a significant gamble on many fronts with their recent signing of Hassan Whiteside.

There will be many who argue that his re-signing was a no-brainer.  Their argument being that there are very few incredibly athletic seven-footer who possess both exceptional agility on both ends of the floor whilst demonstrating an amazing touch from both the field and the free-throw line. Add to that his instincts on the defensive end and the decision would seemingly be a fait accompli.

At seven-feet and 265 pounds, the $98 million contract afforded Whiteside by Pat Riley and the Heat can be viewed as the first steps out the historic Dwyane Wade era.

Riley does have an affinity for dominating centers. Prior to joining the Heat, he coached legendary centers Kareem-Abdul Jabaar and Patrick Ewing. Whilst in charge with the Heat, he has traded for and coached Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal.

Three of these superstars were the No. 1 overall pick in their respective drafts, whilst Mourning was pick No. 2 behind O’Neal in the same draft. Whiteside, however, does not have the glowing resume that these hall-of-famers brought when entering the league.

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Despite his incredible physical gifts, Whiteside was not selected until the second round as the 33rd pick of the 2010 NBA draft. As has been highly documented, he has bounced around everywhere since — to China, to Lebanon, to the D-League. And, finally the Heat.

Despite these obstacles and uncertainties, the Heat have shown incredible faith in awarding such an enormous contract to a player with lingering questions and just 140 games of NBA experience.

Therefore, it would be interesting to make a comparison as to how Whiteside fares compares to some other current traditional centers in terms of their production after two full seasons in the league. I’ve chosen these players as a comparison as they appear currently to be roughly on a similar level of on-court production and value to their team. Although their games do differ from player-to-player, significantly different in some cases, none of them were labelled as complete certainties to be legitimate stars in the league.

Whiteside has career averages of 11.7 points per game, 9.9 rebounds per game and 2.9 blocks per game in 24.1 minutes per game. This past season whilst playing 29.1 minutes per game, Whiteside produced 14.2 points per game. He was 26 years old and had played 140 games at the end of last season, his second full season. (Note: technically he completed his second season at age 22, however he had accounted just 19 games under his belt.)

The first player to compare him with is Detroit center Andre Drummond, who entered the league as the ninth pick of the 2012 NBA draft. Drummond started slowly and after two full seasons in the league–141 games total and at 20 years of age–he had posted averages of 11.1 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game and 1.6 blocks per game whilst playing 27.4 minutes per game.

Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, recently named All-NBA First team center, had a rather inauspicious start to his career, producing just 4.6 points per game, 4.9 rebounds per game and 0.9 blocks per game in 15.5 minutes per game in 123 games at age 21 over the first two seasons.  However, he just posted 12.7 points per game, 13.8 rebounds per game and 2.3 blocks per game in 33.7 minutes per game at age 27.

Toronto Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunus was the overall fifth pick in the 2011 draft. His first two seasons in completed at age 21 over 123 games produced the numbers of 10.3 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game and 1.04 blocks per game in 26.3 minutes per game. This past season saw him post numbers of12.8 points per game, 9.1 rebounds per game and 1.3 blocks per game in 26.0 minutes per game.

Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who was pick sixteen of the 2011 NBA draft, posted 10.1 points per game and 9.1 rebounds per game over his initial two seasons which consisted of 128 games completed at age 22. He has just come off a season averaging 18.2 points per game, 8.9 rebounds per game and 1.1 blocks per game.

All the players listed here as comparisons with Whiteside are either borderline all-stars or have made one all star appearance (Drummond).

When comparing the first two full seasons for each, Whiteside’s numbers stack up very well. Indeed many will point to the age difference when this was completed–Whiteside was 26 years old whilst the others ranged between 20-22 years of age.

That being said, determining when anyones maturity levels as a player will reach their peak is very hard to quantify. This is clearly one of the main factors holding back Whiteside and why he has completed just two full NBA seasons and has just recently turned 27.

Whilst maturity and discipline issues have held back Whiteside up until this point, now that he is gradually gaining playing experience, there is no reason why the steady improvements we have seen can’t continue this coming season and beyond.

One such example last season was his free-throw shooting, where he shot 54.2 percent over the first 41 games of the season and dramatically improved to 74.4 percent over the remaining 32 games.

Something as simple as a slight change in his stance and approach to shooting his free throws was pronounced. Whiteside instead would treat the free-throws as a field goal, whereby he would take a step behind the line and let it fly without any dribbling.

For anyone, particularly a seven-footer, to enjoy such a steep rise in their shooting percentage mid-season is almost unheard of. Almost always, players would make slight adjustments each off-season, whereby increasing their accuracy from 54 to 74 percent would take years, not weeks.

Furthermore as last season progressed, Whiteside clearly seemed to embrace and understand further the concept of team play. After missing some games during the season due to injury, Whiteside was asked by coach Erik Spoelstra to come off the bench upon his return, and play behind veteran Amare Stoudemire.

With a looming contract on the horizon, Whiteside responded in outstanding fashion. During a 24 game stretch in February and March coming off the bench each game, Whiteside posted numbers of 17.3 points per game, 12.8 rebounds per game and 3.6 blocks per game in 29.5 minutes per game.

Despite these very impressive numbers, the Heat still have definitely made a rather large gamble. Although some other teams were ready to hand Whiteside the contract he was looking for, there were plenty that wanted no part in such an investment. Up until the conclusion of this past season, he had been somewhat of a journeyman, playing for the minimum every stop he made. Now that he has had his big pay-day, will he continue to flourish or will he return to the days where his attitude and lack of maturity led him to playing globally in China and Lebanon?

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With Dwyane Wade gone and the status of Chris Bosh still up in the air, the Heat, in particular Riley, will be hoping that Whiteside rewards them for the faith and persistence they have shown in him.