Portland Trail Blazers: Three reasons to believe in Hassan Whiteside

Portland Trail Blazers fans were sceptical about Hassan Whiteside’s improvement in 2020, how has he shown recently that this isn’t a flash in the pan?

Hassan Whiteside has been an inconsistent player over his six-year NBA career. Playing for a rebuilding Miami Heat team, he earned a max deal with two of the best shot blocking years in recent memory. Injuries and then differences with Heat management meant he was traded in the summer on the last year of his deal to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Whiteside is one of the most overwhelming physical presences in the league when he’s fit and engaged. The Heat’s style isn’t for everyone, their stringent conditioning rules and culture don’t suit every personality type. When Whiteside was traded to the Blazers he came with a bad rep, on and off the court.

At the start of the season he had some massive games, but these were mixed with games where his effort waned and he committed untimely turnovers. Since the new year we have seen his effort and decision-making get better, while his finishing around the rim has also been better. His production has increased greatly from month to month.

At the beginning of the season he was putting up empty stat-lines, he was blocking lots of shots and rebounding but this was combined with turnovers and flimsy defense.

This year he seems to be getting better each week. It looks like Whiteside is the kind of guy who wants to feel welcome and wanted in the locker room. Damian Lillard has made him feel welcome and now we are seeing a version of Whiteside that will help get this team to the playoffs. What has he done so well this season that show we can trust his performances moving forward?

Rebounding

Whiteside has always been a great rebounder. This year though, he is rebounding at a rate matched only by Andre Drummond on the defensive end and then by Drummond and three others on the offensive end. This is only the second time in his career he has ranked in the top five on both ends for rebounding rate.

In all rebounding metrics he is in the top five. Rebound rate, rebounds per game, and total rebounds. This is the same when split into offense and defense. Whiteside has truly taken the role of lead big man on this team. The Blazer needed him to inhale every rebound and he has done this at a career high.

Defense

Whiteside has just started to show he can defend at a higher level than just blocking shots. Per cleaning the glass, this season he has posted his best ever defensive on off rating  of -2.4 points. Though this isn’t élite in terms of the league, it is double his previous career high and the second best rate on the Blazers amongst the squad members who have played the whole season.

He has tried to move his feet more when defending, is leaving his feet less on unlikely block attempts, and is making better decisions on that end. This is reflected by a foul rate that is the second lowest of his career.

We obviously need to mention his shot blocking too. At 3.1 a game this is the best mark in the NBA. Playing only thirty minutes a night as well, this number shows he in the top few players in the league when it comes to blocking shots.

Whiteside’s defense has been much improved in 2020.

Offensive game

Whiteside’s finishing at the rim and his touch from midrange and the post have been great this year. He is shooting a career high on his short-mid-range attempts at an excellent 54 percent. While his 70 percent at the rim is the third best mark of his career. This means Whiteside’s overall efficiency is an excellent 61 percent from the field.

He is looking for less postups, and is trying instead to just seal his man and get size mismatches underneath. With a career high in offensive rebounds he is able to go straight back up uncontested a lot of times.

Another massive improvement has been his free throw shooting. A career 60.9 percent shooter from the line, this year he has shot a competent 72.2 percent.

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All of the above improvements have meant he has had the second best scoring year of his career at 15.8 points a game, while he also has the highest true shooting percentage of his career at 64.2 percent.

Whiteside’s month by month improvement bodes well for this Blazers team. He may not be around next year, but Whiteside has been a large part of the reason this team has won five of their last six games. If he can continue defending at the rate he has been, we may see him and the Blazers in the NBA playoffs.

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