Better Know a Prospect: Hassan Whiteside, C - Marshall

For one reason or another, Hassan Whiteside has emerged as the early favorite at #11 in many parts of the Hornets' blogosphere. Emeka Okafor didn't have the season many expected of him in 2009-2010, and though he's under contract for the foreseeable future, the front court is full of question marks heading into next season. Whiteside's height, athletic build, and leaping ability appeal to many and as such, he's drawn comparisons to Tyson Chandler

Whiteside is young (will turn 21 on June 13th), and will likely be drafted for future potential as much as current production. However, he is very old for a freshman, having joined Marshall last fall at the age of 20. His relative inexperience and slight frame will likely do him no favors. On the flip side, had Whiteside registered multiple productive years at Marshall and fully filled out his frame, he wouldn't be dropping to the eleventh spot in the draft.

Bio

Whiteside was born in Gastonia, North Carolina on June 13th, 1989 to Hassan Arbubakrr and Debbie Whiteside. Hasson played in the NFL for eleven seasons, as a defensive end for the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Bucs. As a baby, Whiteside measured 23.5 inches long and drank 8 ounce bottles of baby formula, instead of the customary 2 ounce bottles. His doctors grew concerned about his pituitary gland, predicting that Whiteside would eventually grow to be 7'2" as an adult. Hassan Arbubakrr (which was also Whiteside's name until he legally took his mother's last name at 18) was 6'5" and Whiteside's great-grandfather had stood at 7'3".

For whatever reason, Whiteside didn't grow that much more as he moved on to his teenage years. In high school, Whiteside didn't initially play basketball. Instead, he was an all-state wrestler, measuring in at 6' and 150 pounds. As Whiteside would later recount to the Charleston Daily Mail, "Everybody was like, "where your height at?" And then I just started sprouting up." Hassan went to live with his father for a while in New Jersey, where he began to play competitive basketball in earnest. Before returning to North Carolina for two senior seasons of high school, Whiteside averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 5.5 blocks in his junior season. 

Whiteside committed to Marshall at the end of his first senior season, and though teams like Memphis, Kentucky, and Connecticut tried to recruit him during his second senior season, he opted to stick with his initial commitment. He spent a year at Marshall before declaring for the NBA draft.

When Whiteside was first recruited in 2008, he measured in at 6'9" and 195 pounds (at age 19). Today, he's 7'0", weighs almost 240, and has a 7'7" wingspan. And as of February of this year, doctors still predict that Whiteside will eventually grow to be "within a couple of inches of his wingspan." While that may sound preposterous to you and me, these are the same people that predicted Whiteside would be a 7 footer back when he barely scraped 2 feet in height. 

Stats

Whiteside averaged around 26 minutes a game, right around the average most big man prospects posted this year. In 34 games, he averaged 19.0 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 7.7 blocks per 40 minutes, pace adjusted. A large part of his offensive game was predicated on his ability to get the line; he averaged 0.46 free throw attempts per offensive possession.

While posting decent offensive efficiency (1.09 points per possession), Whiteside was never really a focal point of Marshall's offensive attack as he posted usage rate of 16.9%. Additionally, Whiteside averaged almost 0.8 FGA/possession, indicating that he attempted a shot almost 80% of the times he touched the ball. It's difficult to say how many of those shots came in the flow of the offense, but those that have labeled him a black hole may not be too far off base. Whiteside averaged a pathetic 2 assists per 100 possessions, one of the worst rates by any big man in the country.

His 7.7 blocks per 40, adjusted, is among the best college rates ever, however. In conjunction with the high block rates, Whiteside averaged only 3.5 fouls per 40 minutes, pace adjusted; a high block:foul ratio is often a better indicator of blocking prowess than raw block totals. Whiteside excelled at both.

Skills

Despite his obvious potential, Whiteside's defensive abilities are a mixed bag. There are serious, serious questions about his strength. Like many scouts have noted, he can certainly stand to add many more pounds of muscle. Opponents frequently posted him up, even with very average offensive players. His back-to-the-basket defensive skills rank among the worst of any PF/C lottery candidate, he was frequently outmuscled and outworked on the blocks by shorter players.

That said, Whitesaid has exceptional lateral movement capabilities. One of his assets appears to be his ability to defend pick and rolls- he's quick enough to defend the dribbling initiator and double back to cover a roller. As a weak-side help defender, he projects to be a monster at the NBA level. His timing on help rotations has been lauded. Additionally, he projects to be one of the better defensive rebounding prospects in the lottery.

Offensively, Whiteside is very raw. He has the beginnings of a hook shot and a decent midrange shot, but as Draft Express' Jonathan Givony notes, "it’s clear that once he touches the ball, he sees nothing besides the rim, often forcing up extremely poor shots and having major issues dealing with double teams." This assessment fits right in with his very poor passing ability and his high FGA/possession numbers. To expect Whiteside to potentially complement Chris Paul aerially the way Tyson Chandler did may be somewhat reasonable, but to expect him to create offense on his own seems unreasonable at this point.

Makeup

Again, as with his skill set, there's an interesting dichotomy here. Whiteside comes from a great family- his mother may be as strong a role model as one can find, and the two apparently are very close. 

But recently, there have been questions as to his passion for the game. He's said to have a low basketball IQ. He reportedly struggled academically in high school (most probably explaining the two senior seasons) and in college (some have speculated that he couldn't return to Marshall in the fall even if he had wanted to). And that's to make no mention of his performance in the CIT. From the Herald Dispatch:

Marshall’s 7-0 freshman center also had a 20-minute version of the flu Monday, sauntering into practice approximately 20 minutes late. Besides getting kicked out of practice Monday for his tardiness, Whiteside was taken out of the starting lineup Tuesday.

Although his 23-game starting streak ended, Whiteside did enter the game with 15:39 remaining in the first half.

Yet, he never was really into the game. In the game? Yes. Into the game? No.

Whiteside appeared so lackadaisical, so disinterested several Marshall fans yelled for him to give some effort.

It never happened.

Mercifully, Marshall coach Donnie Jones pulled Whiteside from the game with 13:47 remaining never to return.

That move won the game for Marshall.

I didn't watch that game, didn't see a single Whiteside game all season, and honestly had never heard of the CIT before researching for this story. So I'm in no position to judge or make sweeping comments about Whiteside's character here. But if that's not the definition of a "red flag," I don't know what is.

Overall

Any way you slice it, Whiteside has the exact same defensive pros and cons Tyson Chandler did coming into the league. Scouts questioned if Chandler would be strong enough to defend powerful post players (by the time he got to New Orleans, he was and how). Whiteside seems to possess Tyson's two biggest defensive selling points as a high schooler- lateral movement and rotation defense. Offensively, Whiteside would seem to be the perfect pick and roll partner for Chris Paul. Honestly, if he ever became the defensive stopper some envision, the development of his already above average midrange game would be rendered a moot point.

I think the conclusion here is clear: the only way New Orleans drafts Whiteside is if they're absolutely certain they have a head coach or assistant coach that can work with big men. The downside is absolutely real- low basketball IQ, undeveloped offensive moves, and low core strength could definitely signify the second coming of Hilton Armstrong. But the upside of Whiteside is simply way too difficult to ignore; given coaching, this could be a 7'2" to 7'4" defensive monster with a jump shot and pick and roll ability.

High risk, high reward, indeed. 

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