The NBA season is about 25 percent completed and, barring injury, the Miami Heat appear to be playoff contenders. How deep a run they make depends to a large extent on Hassan Whiteside’s progression.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Washington Wizards decided to go with a smaller lineup in their most recent matchups against the Heat. As a result, Erik Spoelstra resorted to keeping Whiteside on the bench late in the fourth quarter. Of course, Whiteside was not too pleased with this and has expressed his displeasure. The strategy worked against the Thunder on Dec. 3, but did not against the Wizards.
The Heat have to figure out a way to utilize Whiteside late in games. Opposing teams will want to play small against Miami. Whiteside will have to extend to the outside and cover a jump shooter, but he is too valuable to leave on the bench when the game is on the line. Spoelstra has to experiment with a zone defense or have Whiteside cover the opponent’s slowest player. A player who is almost guaranteed to be offered a max contract next season should not be on the bench at the most crucial stage of the game.
Against the Wizards, the Heat had absolutely no business blowing the game even if the referees did miss a clear travel from Bradley Beal. Whiteside should have been on the court. Washington had Jared Dudley playing the center position. Whiteside could have been posting him up every possession. Even on the defensive end, Whiteside should not have a problem getting a hand out and contesting a three-point shot from Dudley. If the Wizards are going to win with Dudley knocking down critical threes, then so be it.
Charles Barkley said it best about the Heat and their long, athletic big man. “They’re only going to go as far as Whiteside carries them.” He is so important to this organization and they will need his presence to contest shots in the lane. Whiteside claims he would have loved the challenge of defending an undersized perimeter player, so why not test it out and see what happens? Teams that decide to play “small ball” should not determine whether or not Whiteside should be on the bench. The Heat should not always adjust to how other lineups look. They should be making teams try to play big and stop their future all-star center.
Now is the time to experiment with Whiteside in the game during crunch time. Whiteside’s growth and how deep a run the team can make are both at stake. Whiteside is athletic enough to extend out on defense and still play to his strengths.