Hassan Whiteside has been a huge difference maker this season. (USATSI)
Hassan Whiteside has been a huge difference maker this season. (USATSI)

Heat center Hassan Whiteside passed a meaningless milestone in the team's last game, as he finally broke the 1,000-minute barrier for the season. That arbitrary round number doesn't necessarily tell us anything about Whiteside, but it does go to show just how limited his playing time has been during this breakout season.

Whiteside didn't play consecutive games for the Heat until Christmas this season, and basically wasn't a member of the rotation until the New Year. Since then, however, he has been a dominant force on the Fantasy landscape, averaging 13.3 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game, in just 26.2 minutes of playing time.

If you project those per-game numbers out -- without accounting for possible improvement -- he would have rated out as the 33rd most-valuable player in Rotisserie scoring formats entering the season. That puts him behind only DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond at the center position.

Looking ahead to next season, how should Fantasy owners view Whiteside? Though he certainly has the upside to be a top-5 center, has he done enough in his limited minutes to earn that lofty status?

Probably not. Last season, the fifth center drafted on average in CBSSports.com leagues was Andre Drummond, who went 25th overall. That was a generous projection for a player who was coming off a full season of 2,619 minutes of 13.5-13.2 averages with 2.8 combined blocks and steals. Whiteside has certain advantages over Drummond -- he can make his free throws, basically -- but Drummond serves as a good cautionary tale, as the young big man took a step backward in his development this season.

So, where should you look to take Whiteside? Let's first look at the players I am definitely ranking over Whiteside:

DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis (if he qualifies at C), Chris Bosh, Al Horford, Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Nikola Vucevic, Pau Gasol, Derrick Favors

So, best-case scenario, Whiteside could be as high as ninth in my rankings entering next season. But, that doesn't account for a number of older, potentially safer picks like Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, Brook Lopez or Marcin Gortat. It also doesn't include some other young, up-and-coming players like Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert, Nerlens Noel or Jonas Valanciunas. Each of those players could have as much upside as Whiteside heading into next season, with as many or possibly even fewer question marks.

Depending on how aggressive you are projecting Whiteside moving forward, he certainly could be the 10th center on your board. His upside is possibly even higher than Drummond or DeAndre Jordan, thanks to his more developed offensive skill set. And, unlike Pau Gasol, Al Jefferson or Dwight Howard, you can easily see him improving moving forward.

There is a lot of upside here, there is no doubting that. Whiteside is the only player in NBA history to average 15-plus rebounds and 3.5-plus blocks per-36 minutes while logging 1,000-plus minutes in a season, so he is literally putting up historic numbers.

However, he has also spent much of the season serving as the second or third offensive option; he is one of just 12 centers to post a usage rate above 21.0 this season. The Heat will presumably have Goran Dragic and Bosh available from the start of next season, so Whiteside's role could be a diminished at least a little.  

Whiteside is going to be one of the most interesting players in the league come next year's Fantasy drafts, and how you value him will depend on what kind of team you want to build. If you like to play it safe, you'll slot him further down the rankings and try to stay away.

If you are willing to throw caution to the wind and go for the biggest payoff possible, Whiteside will be at the top of your list, possibly as early as the 4th round next season.