Season Preview Essays: Hassan Whiteside

It feels kind of stupid to write a 2010-2011 preview of Hassan Whiteside, because nothing about Hassan screams “2010-2011”. It’s like flying from L.A. to Miami – sure, you’ll probably be over Arizona at some point, and you might even enjoy that part of the flight if it’s when they pass out the peanuts, but that’s not really what the flight is about, is it?

Ditto for Whiteside – yes, he will make a cameo of sorts in this campaign, and chances are he exhilarates us a few times with a few monstrous blocks, but the ultimate goal is far, far in the future.

Physically, the upside is enormous. Standing seven feet tall, with a ridiculous 7’7″ wingspan. Bursting with muscle. Fast. Quick. Explosive. Not that we haven’t seen guys like this fail before – athleticism can only take you so far – but why penalize Hassan for failures past? Not to mention that for a big man, the frame means more than it does for other positions, since at the very least, everybody needs a shot-blocker/rebounder — even if he lacks all basic understanding of basketball and fouls out on a nightly basis. Just look at the money tossed Amir Johnson’s way this summer.

And while the supposed attitude issues may sound concerning (I say “may” because I doubt their validity. I am admittedly very far away from Sacramento’s daily happenings, but I haven’t seen nor heard anything regarding those concerns since draft night), once factoring that incredible frame, there is no reason to believe Hassan can’t already start out as that shot-blocker/rebounder, and grow from there.

Don’t believe me?

Hassan blocked 5.4 shots in 26.1 minutes per game in college. For those of you who can’t find your calculators, that’s a block every 4 minutes, 50 seconds. That extrapolates to 7.4 blocks per 36 minutes. Three times, his blocking numbers climbed to double digits. All three times he added 10+ points and boards for the rare collegiate triple double.

Want more? Last season, 21 teams averaged less than 5.4 blocks. 3 more clocked in at the 5.4 mark. The Kings came in 23rd among teams at 4.5 a night. Your second round pick averaged, in 26 minutes, more blocks than 70% of the association.

Now, one could point out how different the NBA is from college, how it’s much easier to block physically inferior children than grown men who won’t look up at him, how different the timing is on shots. One would be right on every single one of those points. But come on, folks – 5.4. You can’t find that many blocks in a life sized Lego statue of Rony Seikaly. You don’t get those only by being tall. Nor do you get the 8.9 rebounds, a stat that translates relatively well to NBA ball.

The trick with Hassan will be to mold this roundball lump of clay into a fully functioning, fear inducing, paint dwelling behemoth. One wonders if the Kings have the right roster to do this – despite being 21 years old, Whiteside played only one season at college, and as such minutes will be crucial for his continued development. Minutes that will be hard to come by behind the Cousins/Landry/Dalembert/Thompson quadrabigman. The D-League could be a good source of minutes, but despite featuring high level basketball, it may be found wanting as far as providing Hassan with experience on how to bang down low. Staying on the bench and colliding with NBA level centers in practice might be the best way to go here, even if it means sacrificing playing time.

That being said, Hassan fits the Kings’ rebuilding process very well. Dalembert may/should be gone by the start of next season, vacating the spot of defensive-big-man-who-tries-not-to-get-in-DMC’s-way. I see no reason why Hassan can’t fill this role in the future. If all goes to according to plan, his development should perfectly mirror the team’s – slowly rising from irrelevance over the next two-three years, hitting his stride in the seasons that follow, and hopefully, peaking at great heights in his prime. In that regard, the Kings are absolutely perfect for a project big man.

For a glimpse at the other side of the spectrum, take a look at the Jarvis Varnado. Varnado averaged 4.8 blocks a night last season in the NCAA, second only to Whiteside. However, he was drafted by the Miami Heat, less than two weeks before they immediately became a contender. Varnado will be spending this season in Italy, while Whiteside will be in the NBA. Sure, Varnado isn’t anywhere near Hassan potential-wise, but this isn’t a coincidence. Young big men need time. The Kings have quite a bit in their stocks.

And whenever judging Hassan, that point will be key. True defensive centers are this league’s slowest developing breed – remember Jermaine O’neal’s seasons in Portland? – and Hassan is no different. While I think he could turn some heads immediately with preposterous per-minute blocking numbers, the eventual reward to the very low risk pick that is Hassan will be collected far beyond 2010-2011.


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