For the Miami Heat to continue their historic surge toward the NBA Playoffs — their odds are about a coin flip, per FiveThirtyEight — they’ll need to be sharp in all areas, especially offensively, where Hassan Whiteside remains a mixed bag.
The Heat ranked 28th in offensive efficiency over the first two months of the season but possess the 14th best offense since January 1st. Miami’s defense is elite, ranking sixth in efficiency on the season and while the offense has certainly gained significant ground, there is still room for growth.
Their backcourt has been dynamic. Goran Dragic is a fire-breathing terror from the perimeter, converting a career-best 42 percent of his threes while averaging 20.2 points. Dion Waiters continues to sizzle, hitting 43 percent of his threes in February.
However, 3-point shooting can be erratic even for the league’s finest snipers, and especially difficult for a team like Miami to depend on considering their personnel. Dragic and Waiters are both shooting sizably above their career percentages from behind the arc (by over five percentage points each) and could be in line for a regression.
Outside of launching threes from the corner, the most efficient bucket in basketball can be had at the rim, and nobody is more threatening around the iron than Whiteside for the Heat. He’s averaging a career-high 16.6 points on a respectable 56 percent shooting but there’s one area where he’s blatantly struggling: in the post.
Over the course of the season, I’ve heard numerous requests from friends and Tweeters to feed Whiteside more inside. Yet statistically speaking, his post game suffocates Miami’s offense.
While Whiteside often flashes nice touch around the basket, he’s a terrible option with his back to the cylinder, converting just 0.74 points per possession in post-up situations, ranking 36th of 37 players with at least 100 possessions, per NBA.com.
Not only is he wildly inefficient in this area but he posts up a bunch. His post-up frequency relative to his other play types is 29 percent, which equates to about five possessions a game and is more than any other play type. Taking a look at his four most frequent offensive plays, he’s far more potent in other ways, involving sets that utilize him in more of a secondary fashion.
With skyscraper length and massive soft mitts, Whiteside is a pain in the ass in pick-and-roll situations (1.20 PPP), where he’s in the 83rd percentile of all NBA players. He may think of himself as an all-around player superior to lob specialist DeAndre Jordan, but it’d be prudent for the Heat’s offense to treat him more like Jordan.
It’s a similar tale for Whiteside on putbacks (1.21 PPP) and cuts (1.35 PPP), though a good chunk of the latter two actions is dependent on hustle and timing.
Looking at this overall impact on Miami’s offense, Whiteside’s minus-2.6 in Offensive Box Plus/Minus ranks 134th of 159 players to have logged 500 minutes — it’s also the lowest among Miami’s current rotation players. The OBPM metric, found on Basketball Reference, essentially indicates a player’s offensive contribution over the league average. Anything over 4.0 can be considered elite, with only 20 players meeting that mark league wide. Dragic leads the Heat roster with a plus-3.4.
There’s no debating his ability on the defensive end, where his rim-deterring presence and 1.5 Defensive Box Plus/Minus point to a positive impact. The key there will always be his level of engagement and energy.
While there are many ways the Heat can strive to be more efficient offensively, it’s tough to reprogram certain elements of their offense this late in the season. Erasing Whiteside’s post-ups completely is unrealistic but if they merely halved his post-up possessions in favor of more efficient alternatives like pick-and-rolls and drive-and-kicks, the team’s offensive efficiency would receive a nice little boost.
It may only equate to two or three more points per game, but that can be the difference between making the playoffs and entering the lottery for a team just one game out from the No. 8 seed.