The excitement surrounding the rapid rise of Miami Heat surprise star Hassan Whiteside now pales in comparison to the importance placed on his production.
But all basketball angles of this story take a backseat to the frightening health news surrounding sidelined All-Star Chris Bosh. The 30-year-old will miss the remainder of the season while receiving treatment for blood clots on his lung, the Heat announced Saturday.
"Bosh, who is receiving care under the guidance of Miami Heat team physicians at a Baptist Health System Hospital, is currently resting comfortably," the Heat said in an official statement. "Chris is OK and his prognosis is good."
As Dwyane Wade told reporters Friday, this situation is about something far bigger than sports, per Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post:
"The health of your players, that’s my biggest concern, and that’s my biggest thought last night and tonight," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday, per Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald. "Is C.B. OK? Is his family OK?"
Helping Bosh through this unfortunate time has to be the first, second and third priorities of the Heat. He's so many things more than a basketball player—a husband, a son, a father, a friend. Getting him back on his feet trumps anything that will take place on the NBA hardwood.
But still the show—or in this case, the 2014-15 season—must go on. After hooking the biggest fish during Thursday's trade deadline by landing 2013-14 All-NBA third-teamer Goran Dragic, the Heat seemed primed to perhaps push their ceiling higher than a one-and-done playoff appearance.
"We are incredibly pleased to take another step in getting the Miami Heat back to real championship prominence with the acquisition of Goran Dragic," Heat president of basketball operations Pat Riley said, per Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. "We felt that once he became available, we would do all that we could to acquire him."
Doing all they could entailed parting with two future first-round draft picks and four players (Danny Granger, Norris Cole, Justin Hamilton and Shawne Williams) in a three-team trade that delivered Dragic and his brother, Zoran, to South Beach.
The price was high, but the potential prize appeared even greater.
"Pat Riley is a magician," USA Today's Nate Scott wrote after the trade. "The trade immediately makes the Heat contenders to make a run in the East."
But all of that assumed Miami would have two things it hasn't all season: health and continuity.
Prized offseason addition Josh McRoberts was shut down by a torn meniscus before Whiteside had snagged a permanent spot in the rotation. Hamstring problems forced Wade to miss 17 of the team's first 52 games. A calf problem kept Bosh out of eight contests.
Of the 17 players who have suited up for the Heat this season, only Mario Chalmers has taken the floor each time out. Spoelstra has already assembled 21 different starting lineups.
If only the pieces could have come together, Spo's 22nd try might have been the charm. As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, Miami's newest lineup looked elite on paper:
With Bosh out of the equation, Miami's season is in serious jeopardy of a complete collapse. The sweet-shooting big man was one of the most potent weapons in this team's arsenal.
|How Chris Bosh Carried the Heat|
|Player Efficiency Rating||19.9||Third|
Whiteside can be productive in his own right.
He's averaging 10.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in only 19.6 minutes a night. That converts to per-36-minute marks of 18.5, 15.8 and 4.3, respectively. For some context, eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard's career per-36-minute averages are 18.3 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.
Per-minute numbers don't always translate to an expanded role, but there's hope that Whiteside's could. During the 10 games he's played at least 24 minutes, he's tallied 16.2 points, 14.4 boards and 3.3 rejections. He's had seven outings with 15-plus points, nine with double-digit rebounds and five with at least four blocks.
He can help the Heat hide Bosh's absence on the glass and the defensive end. In both of those areas, Whiteside already plays at a top-shelf level.
"He's always around the ball; he rebounds extremely well in a crowd," an NBA scout said of Whiteside, per ESPN The Magazine's Ross Marrinson. "He's an explosive leaper and has extremely long arms, making him an elite shot-blocker."
|Where Whiteside Ranks as Rebounder, Rim Protector|
|Percentage of Rebounds Per Chance||66.0||13th|
|Contested Rebounds Per Game||4.4||T-11th|
|Contested Rebound Percentage||50.2||Seventh|
|Blocks Per Game||2.4||Second|
|Opponent's Field-Goal Percentage at Rim||43.3||Fifth|
If the defense slips at all without Bosh—Miami has surrendered 0.9 more points per 100 possessions when he isn't playing—the Heat have a player who can impact and close out defensive trips in Whiteside.
But the big guy's greatest challenge will be helping replace the production lost on the opposite end.
"How they deal with the loss of Bosh on the court will be tricky," wrote CBS Sports' Zach Harper. "Bosh's spacing with his ability to knock down jumpers has been key to allowing Spoelstra's teams to space the floor and spread the defense thin."
The Heat don't have another floor-spacing big to take Bosh's spot. McRoberts could have been that guy, but he's on the shelf. Granger, Williams and Hamilton all filled that role on occasion, but they aren't on the roster anymore.
Miami can't afford to let the paint become congested. Not with the amount of time Dragic and Wade both like to spend near the basket: 14.2 drives and 9.8 restricted-area field-goal attempts combined per game.
Whiteside has flashed a decent shooting stroke, but the sample size is too small to trust.
While he's converted 46.5 percent of his jump shots, they only account for 18 percent of his made field goals. And his career 52.9 free-throw percentage makes one wonder if the shooting success he's enjoyed is just an anomaly.
The Heat can only hope that it isn't. Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem aren't scaring any defenders with their jump shots. Utilizing Luol Deng as a stretch 4 not only increases the physical toll on a player who's had some injury problems, but it would also simply plug one hole while creating another on the perimeter.
There just aren't any simple solutions available to the Heat.
They should look to run more to create easy scoring chances (they play at the league's slowest pace), but this is an older roster without much depth. They could check the free-agent market (ESPN's Tom Haberstroh said Andray Blatche is a name to watch), but it's nearly been picked clean by this point.
Without Bosh, the Heat don't have a lot of hope to salvage this season. But maybe there's one more trick up the sleeve of Miami's miracle man in the middle.
Whiteside has already shocked the basketball world once this season. If he can hit the offensive gear he's reached at times with more consistency, he just might surprise us all—and save the Heat—once again.