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Lakers Free Agency: Is Hassan Whiteside worth 'aggressively pursuing?'

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Reports are that the Miami center is at the top of Los Angeles' list for the this summer

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Lakers Linkedin, our new free agency preview series (inspired by our friends over at Liberty Ballers' own "Sixers Tinder") where we look at the "resumes" of various free agents, and determine whether or not we think the Lakers' should hire them. Today, we continue to look at one of LA's reported prime targets this summer, Hassan Whiteside.

Resume:

  • Was a top 100 recruit in his 2009 high school class
  • Averaged 13/9 with 5 blocks in 26 minutes per game in one season at Marshall
  • Drafted 33rd by the Sacramento Kings in 2010, but played just 19 games for them in his first two seasons and spent most of time in the D-League
  • He then bounced around to two teams in Lebanon and one in China
  • After a failed stint with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2014, latched on with the Miami Heat in a two year deal for the 2014-2015 season
  • In two seasons with Miami, averaged 13/11 with 3 blocks in 27 minutes on .606/.000/.602 shooting
  • Though 27, has played just 3,378 minutes (for context, Serge Ibaka, also 27, has played just over 15,000 minutes)
  • Named to 2nd Team All-Defense for the 2015-2016 season

Standing 7 feet tall with a 7'7" wingspan and tipping the scales at a very solid 260, Whiteside is a massive, imposing figure standing in the middle of the lane. A late bloomer by almost any stretch of the imagination, Whiteside exploded, unexpectedly, onto the NBA scene two seasons ago, four years after he was drafted in the second round by the Sacramento Kings. At the time, there was no doubt that the big man would be a project, but his physique, incredible athleticism, and raw tools were tantalizing enough to take with the 33rd pick.

Two years later, he was out of the league.

After stints among lesser competition, namely leagues in Lebanon and China, Whiteside returned to the NBA at age 25 and provided the Miami Heat with an unexpected burst of talent, despite washing out at such a young age and his paltry two-year,  $1.6 million deal.

Whiteside was everything he was ever billed at coming out of Marshall University in 2010--a defensive monster and a constant pick-and-roll threat on every offensive possession. With a gigantic reach, an imposing frame, and DeAndre Jordan-like athleticism, there were very few players that could offer Hassan's combination of defensive recovery, weak side shot protection and frontline rim rejections.

Simply put, every ball handler that looks at Whiteside standing in the lane has to think twice before heading to the rack. He is an intimidating force down low and just on sheer presence alone, is deserving of his selection to Second Team All-Defense this season.

Offensively, Whiteside is a finisher, plain and simple. He's not a traditional back to the basket threat, though he does have a solid face-up game and a 3-10 foot jumper that he can hit with decent frequency (45 percent). However, on pick and rolls, he presents the same distracting presence that Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan delivered before him: a consistent threat to dunk on your head.

Physically, we're looking at a 27-year-old center with less than 3,500 NBA minutes on him with still-developing tools that show, incredibly, an even further upside. What's not to love?

Well, a bit.

Whiteside has been criticized for immaturity on the court and personal red flags that have made teams cautious with him going forward. He's been often called out for simply going for the flashy statistics, too often going for the block rather than savvier shot-altering plays. It's not hard to decipher--blocks make the nightly top-10 highlight reels, while altering buckets won't even make the 60-minute compacted version of the game later that night.

The advanced metrics don't love Whiteside's defensive work, even though the eye test would say otherwise. Opponents net offensive rating was essentially the same with him on and off the court, as well as their effective FG%. Though other team's rebounding percentage was definitely better with Whiteside off the court, it seems that the team's defense didn't change much due to his absence. Hm.

There's also been some chatter that Whiteside may have been motivated by his first big payday in the NBA. After collecting just over $3 million in his career, the big man is staring down what could be close to a $100 million dollar max deal this summer. There's a lot to be wary of that a guy with his career path could significantly change his effort after finally getting paid. And when we're talking about defense, effort is the name of the game.

Should the Lakers hire Hassan Whiteside?

If ever there was a more perfect fit for the Lakers in free agency, Hassan Whiteside would be it, at least on the surface. As the last three seasons have exhibited, LA not only badly needs a defensive presence in the lane, but one of Whiteside's specific skillset. Roy Hibbert was supposed to be the team's salve last season, but he lacked the mobility and athleticism that Hassan could bring to the table. In today's NBA, recovery and switching are two of the most important tenants of defense. Hibbert, for all his size, shot blocking and trademark verticality, couldn't provide what these young Lakers need. If properly motivated, Whiteside could partially make up for the defensive misgivings of his young, potential teammates.

Offensively, he should compliment D'Angelo Russell well in the point guard's (hopefully) burgeoning pick-and-roll game, as well as an effective offensive rebounder to Brandon Ingram, Russell and Clarkson's shooting.

The Lakers figure to face stiff competition for Whiteside's services with the Miami Heat vowing that their first priority is to keep their center. However, even with some concerns about his maturity and drive, LA should absolutely make Whiteside their first priority this offseason. On paper, he's the perfect fit and best allocation of their league-leading cap space.

--MAMBINO

--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino