It seemed almost laughable prior to the season that Amar’e Stoudemire, a 33-year-old with the body of a septuagenarian, would start over Hassan Whiteside, one of the most improved players in the league. With the Miami Heat without Chris Bosh indefinitely, however, and the team’s habitually inconsistent play threatening to derail its first post-LeBron James playoff appearance, Coach Erik Spoelstra knew he needed to make a move. So he did.
Whiteside is one of the more dynamic 7-footers in the game on both ends of the court. He’s on pace for 284 blocked shots, the most of any player in nearly 10 years. After missing six games last month with a strained left hip, Spoelstra made the decision: Although Whiteside has started 40 games this season and is one of the best rebounding and shot-blocking centers in the game, he would come off the bench.
Seven games is hardly a strong litmus test, but the Heat is 4-3, with wins over three would-be playoff teams. Furthermore, Whiteside’s splits are glaring: He puts up a higher true shooting percentage (63.8 compared with 61.3), more points (14 compared with 12.4), rebounds (12.4 compared with 11.2), blocks (four compared with 3.88) and a higher usage (20.9 compared with 19.7) when he comes off the bench.
“I’m just out there to try to produce and play the way I play,” Whiteside told the Miami Herald. “Whether I’m starting or coming off the bench, I just try to add value to the team.”
With Whiteside in a reserve role, he’s only logging 2.6 fewer minutes per contest than he did when he started — and his production certainly hasn’t diminished: In Saturday’s win over Washington, he became the first player with 25 points and 23 rebounds off the bench since 1992. As Elias pointed out, Whiteside followed up the performance Monday by becoming the first player in 32 years to have at least 18 points and 18 rebounds in consecutive games off the bench. Spoelstra staggering him against opposing reserves — and in lineups where he’s the sole rebound-generating player on the court for Miami — allows Whiteside to feast on the glass and produce second-chance points in the paint.
In total, Miami’s bench is producing a net rating of plus-4.8 over the last seven games, sixth highest in the league over that stretch, and up 1.3 points per 100 possessions from its season average.
“It makes their bench better,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers told the Florida Sun Sentinel. “Sometimes by putting one guy in and taking one guy and putting him on the bench, and that guy coming off the bench could be a better player, it makes the bench better, it makes your team better.”
Losing Bosh for the rest of the season would be catastrophic, that much is certain. However, Whiteside is producing for the Heat off the bench, allowing the Goran Dragic-Gerald Green-Dwyane Wade trio to commit to a fast-paced style better tailored to their games. In what could be his final season in Miami, the 7-footer has found a way to contribute, while assisting the team to another likely playoff berth.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.