This story was originally published at AllUCanHeat.com. Read the original here.
For Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, the goal for the last three seasons has been to transform a once sparsely employed, 7-foot center from a raw, shot-blocking talent, into a complete, franchise player. For Hassan Whiteside, that means making a concentrated effort on improving his interior passing, to open the floor for his trigger-happy teammates.
For reference, the Heat have seemingly adopted “live by the 3, die by the 3” as their 2017-18 season motto. Up from 27 attempts from behind-the-arc last year, the Heat currently take 31.3 per game this season, a number good enough to rank sixth in the NBA.
The Heat also manage to rank seventh in the league in 3-point makes, at 11 per game. At first glance, these numbers seem respectable; the top-10 in 3-point makes per game include household names like the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors.
However, Miami has consistently proven this season that when the shots stop falling from deep, their offense quickly comes crumbling down. Take the recent loss to the Detroit Pistons on November 12.
The Heat managed to shoot 11-for-23 from downtown in the first half, only for that to come screeching to a halt with just 2-of-14 3’s dropping in the second. The matchup resulted in a loss, as the Heat tried to force 3’s to reignite the offense.
Where does Whiteside play into this?
Since joining the Heat in the 2014-15 season, Whiteside has steadily made amends to his once limited playstyle. When he logged his first triple-double with blocks on January 25, 2015 in a win over the Chicago Bulls, opposing teams quickly had to wise up to his interior abilities, and learn to respect his presence in the paint.
Whiteside then improved to be able to not only swat even the highest arcing shots, but use his massive mitts to keep the ball in play. Two years ago, AllUCanHeat editor Wes Goldberg commented that these defensive stops forced Whiteside to improve his outlet passing, as his possession saving blocks would initiate the transition offense.
Lo and behold, the big man notably improved his outlet game, and the Heat’s pace improved from 95.75 in 2015-16, to 100.30 this season. A jump from 25 in the league to 18.
Currently, Whiteside has made inroads to expand his offensive approach as well, using the offseason to prepare for the occasional 3-point shot, of which he’s logged two makes on two attempts this season.
Opposing players are increasingly having to respect Whiteside’s improvement, and for that reason, bettering his court vision and passing in the half-court set, could serve Miami as they jockey for a return to the playoffs.
As it stands, much of Miami’s offense revolves around a pick-and-roll set up. With Whiteside setting the pick for either Goran Dragic, James Johnson, Justise Winslow or any of the Heat’s ball-handlers (and subsequently rolling to the hoop), defenders are often crashing down on the gargantuan Whiteside, resulting in double teams aplenty.
Of course, for a 3-point heavy team in Miami, improving Whiteside’s passing out of the post is likely to lead to shots around the perimeter. Which is perfect for a spot up jumper from Josh Richardson, Dion Waiters, or the ever-moving Wayne Ellington.
While easier said than done, the stagnation in the Heat’s offense at times is apparent. Miami currently ranks 22 in assists per game and 26 in assist percentage, meaning much of Miami’s offense comes off the dribble. Driving to the hoop is certainly a viable offense, but the driver having to kick out, often leads to an errant, aerial pass that sends perimeter players scrambling to recover the ball and find a shot.
Whiteside is something of a dying breed. While squads like the Pistons, Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz employ an imposing centerpiece, more and more teams are embracing “small ball” or “position-less basketball,” to outrun opponents and nullify the defensive capabilities of traditional centers.
For the Heat to further embrace the 3-point identity with which they are so infatuated, molding Whiteside into a post-passing threat could be the quickest and most logical fix to appease their hot hands.