The Morning After: Whiteside Shines in Preseason Opener

Insight

Basketball is back!

Well, kind of.

The Miami Heat kicked off their preseason on Sunday with a showdown in San Antonio. As expected, the game was frenetic (109.38 pace), sloppy (42 combined turnovers), and brick-tastic from Miami’s end (37/29/71 shooting split).

Preseason play typically boils down to three things: testing out lineups, working guys back into game shape, and building some semblance of chemistry on the floor. Process over results, if you will.

Miami losing to the Spurs isn’t a big deal. The stats themselves don’t matter, but the way they were accumulated does. Within that context, it’s hard not to be impressed by the performance of Hassan Whiteside. He led all scorers with 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting, grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds, racked up a pair of steals, and swatted two shots.

Whiteside entered this summer as Miami’s most polarizing player. That isn’t a new distinction – boy, is that not new – but after an inconsistent, injury-plagued year, things seemed to reach a fever pitch.

To his credit, Whiteside mostly put his head down and went to work. He told The Miami Herald on Thursday that he hired a personal trainer, did sand workouts to improve his lateral quickness, and fine-tuned his offensive game.

If the preseason opener was any indication, Whiteside’s work paid off.

He looked more like the 2015 version of himself, rather than the ground-bound brute we saw most of last season. He ran the floor hard, made his presence felt on the glass, and practically bullied anyone in front of him.

It’s almost laughable how quickly Whiteside put his fingerprints on this game. He didn’t score Miami’s first two buckets, but he helped create those opportunities with his activity.

Below, watch how his deflection of a DeMar DeRozan jump-pass leads to a transition bucket by Rodney McGruder. Not even 30 seconds later, his high screen (DeRozan was the victim) helps force a corner rotation from LaMarcus Aldridge, leading to a swing-swing sequence that ends in a Goran Dragic triple.

Of course, it didn’t take long for Whiteside to get in on the action himself. His first bucket was, somehow, a eurostep around Rudy Gay. It’s been about 18 hours and it still doesn’t make sense.

This wouldn’t be a Whiteside post if we weren’t on #ScreenWatch. Just watch how Patty Mills bounces off of him here.

The separation created allows Tyler Johnson to get his shoulder inside of Mills’ body. Even though Mills recovers, he isn’t really in position. Davis Bertans has to step up to help contain the drive. Johnson then finds Dwyane Wade chillin’ in the dunker spot (shout out to Marco Belinelli getting ready to bail out to the corner before realizing Wade was right beside him), who then finds Whiteside underneath for the dunk.

Whiteside was also on clean-up duty. He finished with four offensive rebounds, but this tip-in sequence stood out, as mundane as it appears on the surface.

There is no screen here (not nitpicking in this case), but look at how much ground Whiteside covers as he changes direction. It’s subtle, but Bertans slides down a step to “tag” Whiteside on the roll. It was a weak tag, and it didn’t impede his progress at all, but the fact that Bertans even had the mind to do so gives a glimpse of the kind of gravity Whiteside still possesses as a roller when he moves with a purpose.

Whiteside showed off his touch with a pair of hook shots in the third quarter, though the real “WOW” moment came from … a little further out.

If you’re keeping track at home, Whiteside still has not missed a three-pointer in an NBA game. He has to miss at some point, right?

Right?

Right???

Whiteside was nothing short of incredible in his 23-minute stint. If that’s what a healthy and engaged Whiteside will look like, Miami has a chance to truly surprise some people — or at the very least, he’ll see a slight boost in trade value.

/coughs


Preseason Notes

• Miami’s leader in shot attempts on Sunday? Rodney McGruder! You’ve gotta love preseason. You do not have to love all of those floaters that clanked off the rim.

• With Wayne Ellington sitting out with … (checks notes) … maintenance, we got to see the sweet shooting stroke of Duncan Robinson. He had an Ellington-like green light and took full advantage, knocking down 3-of-8 triples. I still have no idea if he can guard anyone, but he was a bright spot.

• Tyler Johnson and Kelly Olynyk went a combined 4-of-20 from the field, including a 1-of-7 clip from 3. They got good looks, which is the most important thing. But still: sheesh.

• Dwyane Wade looks to be in pretty good shape. He had some nice moments, chief among them: a where-did-he-come-from block on a jumper, a fake fadeaway into a lead pass to a cutting Kelly Olynyk, and the aforementioned laser to Whiteside for a dunk. He got lost defensively a few times, but nothing unexpected.

• It was not a great day at the rim for Justise Winslow, though it’s clear his aggression from the postseason will carry over. That dude is embracing the villain role.

• Jarnell Stokes is a MAN.

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