The fourth-year player out of Marshall, who was out of the NBA for two years before returning in 2014, is averaging 13.5 points, 11.7 rebounds and a league-leading 3.8 blocks per game.
Riley said Sunday the 26-year-old's development, after barely playing in two seasons with the Sacramento Kings prior to the Heat, has been nothing short of incredible, per Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post:
I’ve never been around that kind of turnaround. We’ve had some players that we’ve opened our eyes up on, but I think what Hassan did last year and what he’s doing now, his level of play– it’s just all about more experience, more reps, understanding how important he is for us.
But in my 50 years in the NBA, I have never seen that kind of phenomenon. I know this is hurting me right now as far as his free agency goes because I’m complimenting him, but he’s grown a lot.
That is certainly high praise, especially since Riley mentioned Whiteside is heading into free agency this summer. Although Whiteside is making just over $981,000 this year, Lieser reported he could be looking at a payday in the market of $80 million over four years.
Whiteside, who is more than one block per game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan for most blocks per game, alters the way opposing teams enter the paint with his 7'0" height and dangerously long wingspan (7'7").
Josh Eberley of Hoop Magazine recently listed Whiteside among his choices for the top five players in his conference:
Five best players in the Eastern Conference this year IMO:— Josh Eberley (@JoshEberley) March 20, 2016
1) LeBron James
2) Kyle Lowry
3) Hassan Whiteside
4) Jimmy Butler
5) Paul George
Although it will not be cheap, keeping Whiteside is a must for the Heat. At 40-29 as of Monday, they currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference despite losing superstar LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers two seasons ago.
Whiteside's ability to block shots at an alarming rate—and record double-doubles in the process—is enough to affect the outcome of games. If Miami wants to compete with the Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors and other top teams in the East, keeping what could be a franchise player as cornerstones Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh inch closer to leaving their prime and retirement is a must.
Judging by Riley's comments, it seems his offseason plans include doing just that.