Portland Trail Blazers: One statistic to define each frontcourt starter’s 2019-20 season

Carmelo Anthony, Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Carmelo Anthony, Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /
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Portland Trail Blazers
Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

No. 5: Hassan Whiteside

The statistic: Opponents shoot 13 percent worse than average against Whiteside at the rim, but… opponents also shoot 7 percent better than average on 3-pointers against him.

If you found yourself around a Heat fan at the time of this past summer’s Heat-Blazers deal, you might have been worried as a Portland Trail Blazers fan. He’ll chase stats that will look All-Star ready, but will come at the detriment of winning, they said. What he won’t give chase to, they continued, are more agile bigs around the perimeter. He’s a big galoot, and one who will be a divisive figure in a proven culture, they finished. If you didn’t know any better, you might think we just sent Meyers Leonard to Miami for Andrew Bynum in 2020.

61 games into his Portland stop, only one of those is seasoned with truth. Hassan Whiteside has been a positive revelation to this point. He’s one double-double away from tying Giannis Antetokounmpo for the most this season, and perhaps best of all, he’s proven that his gaudy numbers do have substance and contribute to winning basketball.

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That being said, if there’s one stat that produces the whole truth, of both Whiteside’s smooth game and it’s rough edges, this is it. This season, Whiteside is the only player in the NBA to take on more than 10 shot attempts at the rim, a testament to both his willingness to challenge everything within a whatever-mile radius of the rim, and also his role as a safety valve to his guards. Opponents are shooting 12.7 percent worse than normal when they go at him, according to NBA.com’s tracking statistics.

That’s higher than your favorite big man, unless his name is Brook Lopez, Ivica Zubac, or, um, Zach Collins. The downside to fortifying the frontline in that manner is that it doesn’t translate further away.

Call it a great irony: to survive as a big man in today’s NBA, the ability to stretch the floor is almost requisite, unless you’re that good a rim-runner and rim protector (see Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela, Hassan Whiteside). But what do all three of those top-tier bigs have in common? They’re susceptible to “matchup nightmares” — those bigs who’ve transformed into catch-and-shoot makers.

The likes of Nikola Jokić and Aron Baynes have led their teams to victories at the expense of Whiteside’s sometimes unwillingness to lag back and sag off on proven shooters.

Players (mostly bigs) are hitting on exactly seven more percentage points higher than normal when they are playing Portland. To paint a picture of how big a gap that is, it’s the difference between Russell Westbrook (34.3 percent) in his Most Valuable Player season and 2006 Ray Allen in Seattle (41.2 percent). Exactly. It shows up in the Blazers’ pick-and-roll defense from time to time; they allow more points in those situations than just nine teams league wide.

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In the grand scheme of things, Portland can live with it. My hunch is that Whiteside can be the starting big on a team with title aspirations. If Collins and a few others have been presented with better health, it’s a safe assumption that Portland would be in the thick of the home court advantage race in the Western Conference. And maybe, once all the cavalry returns, that latter statistic moves more towards normalcy.