The paradox of Hassan Whiteside

Being a dominant big man in the NBA isn't always the most enjoyable experience, as Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside is starting to find out. As Whiteside has laid waste to opposing frontcourts across the league over the last two months, he is starting to receive the kind of treatment Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin have had to deal with in the past.

Opposing big men, powerless at times to slow down his rim rolls or deny his alley oops conventionally, have begun applying more force in their attempts to defend Whiteside, which Whiteside acknowledged Tuesday to the Miami Herald.

I'm starting to realize I'm a bigger name in the NBA than what I was. [But] it's kind of frustrating when random guys are hitting you in your face. People in the scouting report are probably saying, 'Hit this guy with a couple of cheap shots and let's see what he'll do.' I've got to just take it and hope the refs see it.

His reaction to these tactics has brought all of those questions about his maturity back to light, after he hit Kelly Olynyk with an elbow to the back of the neck Monday. That blow earned him his second ejection in four games, as well as a one-game suspension that might be light considering the league's rightful concern about concussion prevention.

Whiteside has racked up two ejections and three technical fouls in the course of a week, and now ranks fifth in the league in techs despite having played well under 1,000 minutes overall. Whiteside has repeatedly acknowledged how hard he worked to get back into the NBA and become an impact player, but this last week has brought the concerns that ultimately cost Whiteside his first chance in the NBA back to the forefront. Miami Herald beat writer Joseph Goodman asked out loud whether Whiteside's unreliability might wind up costing him another chance:

With Whiteside set to make peanuts this season and next and the Heat having exactly no other reliable, healthy big men on the roster, there's not a chance they consider it. But this highlights the paradox that has defined Whiteside since his time as a talented freshman at Marshall University. DraftExpress.com had this to say about Whiteside in March of his freshman season:

'Immature' is the word you hear most often associated with Whiteside both on and off the court, as there will certainly be a large degree of hand-holding and coddling that whichever team drafts him needs to do in order to help him reach his full potential.

Whiteside doesn't have the talent of a Howard or Griffin, perennial All-NBA candidates, but he has shown himself worthy of at least some hand-holding this season. He expressed the right amount of contrition following Monday's ejection, and Heat co-captain Udonis Haslem vouched for him Tuesday as well. And, in the results-driven world of professional sports, it's going to take a lot more than a few ejections for a cap-strapped team to run away from 13 and 14 with rim protection, rightly or wrongly.

Whiteside's per-36 minute numbers compare favorably to the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan, and his 9.2 block percentage would stand as the 15th highest for a player with 1,000-plus minutes played since the league began counting blocks. Moreover, it's not just empty production, as the Heat have been 4.6 points per 100 possessions better with Whiteside on the floor than without, per Basketball-Reference.com.

Whiteside can be a knucklehead, and he can be worth the trouble for a team like the Heat anyways; the two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive. This last week doesn't have to define him, any more than his failures with the Kings a few years back defined him when things were going well with the Heat.

Whether this is just a bump in the road or a more permanent detour is going to depend on whether Whiteside can come to grips with his new place in the league's hierarchy, and everything that comes with it. He would do well to listen to Dwyane Wade.

It's knowing the game he's playing. It's a big boy's game you're playing now. You're good. You like to dunk on people, be dominant, be aggressive and people are going to be that way back. He has to understand this is his new life created by his talent. He's got to understand big guys are going to get fouled hard. He's a genuine guy. He's a nice guy. That's my job as a leader, get on him. But we don't turn our backs on anyone. We're going to help him through it.
Fantasy Writer

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