Portland Trail Blazers: Three areas of improvement for Hassan Whiteside

The Portland Trail Blazers hoped when they traded for Hassan Whiteside that he could be the stopgap in the front court while Jusuf Nurkic was out with injury. Early indications have shown that he’s struggling with this role.

The Portland Trail Blazers badly need Hassan Whiteside to be the defensive anchor on this team. With the team in a rut early on he hasn’t been able to protect the paint or the glass in a way that reflects either his salary or his massive physical presence.

When you have a rim protector on a 25 million a year salary, you expect them to protect the rim and the glass at an élite level. Whiteside hasn’t been able to do this. Where is he struggling and how can he improve in these areas?

Defense around the rim

Don’t let Whiteside’s counting stats fool you, his block percentage is his second lowest in six years and half of what it was when he was at his peak. Now the key to rim protection isn’t just the shots you block, it’s the shots that you deter at the rim.

This is where Whiteside is struggling. He is ranked in the middle of the league when it comes to reducing opponents made field goals at the rim. This is below non rim protectors like Frank Kaminsky and Nikola Jokic. Even more concerning is the Blazers opponents this season have shot a better percentage while he is on the court.

He has to give better effort at the rim by deterring opponents, we will talk more about his rebounding later on but he needs to use his big body and be active on every possession under the rim. We know that Terry Stotts uses a drop coverage in pick and roll but Whiteside needs to be more accurate in these sets. He needs to know the opposition personnel and recognize when he needs to step-up to contest a mid range attempt or cover a drive and deter a lay-up or dunk.

Rebounding

Though it may seem like his rebounding numbers are great when you look at the box score, he has regressed from earlier years. One of Whiteside’s calling cards is élite rebounding, if he can’t provide this then he is a negative for an NBA team.

Through the first nine games he hasn’t managed to grab one rebound from a teammates free throw attempt. Though the Blazers are a strong free throw shooting team, both Mario Hezonja and Skal Labissiere have managed to grab rebounds from free throws.

Whiteside’s defensive rebounding has also dipped, in his best years he was in the top 5 percent of players when it came to defensive rebounding. This year he isn’t even in the top ten. If he had more skills on the court then it wouldn’t matter that he wasn’t in the top-tier when it came to rebounding. But as this is meant to be a large part of his game, his value decreases when he can’t rebound at a high level.

He has to be more active on the glass as second chance points are one of the areas where this team is being hurt the most.

Finishing at the rim

Through the first nine games Whiteside is finishing at the rim at the lowest percentage of his career. His 64 percent is a lot lower than the last two years 69 percent, and even lower than his career peaks of 74 and 75. He is lacking bounce and elevation around the rim and his shot is getting blocked or he is missing around the rim far too often.

He is also guilty of turnovers which is a killer on the offensive end. His struggles around the rim mean that sometimes his offensive rebounds are wasted possessions. He is still shooting mid range shots at around 40 percent which aren’t a great use of possessions either.

These issues on both ends amount to Whiteside being a negative when he is on court. He needs to cut down turnovers and be aggressive in the paint on both ends. His struggles through the first nine games are fixable but he needs to put in a lot more effort. Box scores lines of 17 rebounds may look great but these are empty stats when the opposition is scoring at will and getting large amounts of rebounds.

Whiteside has the skills and physical tools to be élite in the three areas described above. As the season is still young this needs to start straight away. If he can’t find his form soon, he may find himself on the trade block instead.