Eastern Conference Beware: Hassan Whiteside Is Pissed Off at DPOY Snub

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 19, 2016

MIAMI,FL - APRIL 17:  Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat looks on against the Charlotte Hornets during the Eastern Conference playoffs First Round Game One on April 17, 2016 at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

MIAMI — While some NBA players carry around a chip on their shoulder, Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside packs a pile of cinder blocks on his.

And his third-place finish in the Defensive Player of the Year voting—behind repeat winner Kawhi Leonard and runner-up Draymond Green—just added to the stack.

"I guess I'm thankful. I'm happy I'm there, I guess," Whiteside said after Monday's practice. "I don't know. I'm not really."

In his mind, there's nothing worth celebrating. He made this award an open pursuit, then promptly put forth some mind-boggling numbers. His 269 blocks were almost 100 more than anyone else recorded (DeAndre Jordan was second with 177.) Whiteside is the only qualified player in Basketball-Reference.com's database to have a nine-plus block percentage and a defensive rebound percentage of at least 32.

"I came out there, and I put up stats y'all ain't seen in a decade," he said. "Ain't nothing to talk about."

Obviously, the voters didn't see it the same way. Frankly, neither did we. But that's not the issue.

The 7-foot shot-swatting machine thought the hardware was his. Now that he knows it's not, he can use it as kerosene to stoke his internal fire.

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"I'm used to not getting credited for anything," he said. "I'm used to getting overlooked. I've been looked over my whole life."

Motivation

Apr 1, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA;  Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) reacts during the game against the Sacramento Kings in the fourth quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Miami won 112-106. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Whiteside rarely misses criticism, or even what he perceives to be such. Whether it's coming from a national analyst or a social media account, he hears it, occasionally responding but always filing it away in his mental database.

"I got cut three times. Or four. Five, maybe. I don't know," he said. "I got cut a lot. I had GMs say I would never play in the NBA. That was as close as the summer before I signed here. So now I just try to dominate."

That's why this "slight" should terrify the Eastern Conference. Whiteside is angry, and when he channels that emotion the right way, a better on-court product often emerges.

Remember the narrative about Miami's defense faring better without Whiteside? The big guy does. And he used that as motivation to improve his focus, tenacity and positioning on that end. For the season's first two months, Miami surrendered 8.3 fewer points per 100 possessions without him. But the numbers flipped during the final four months, and the Heat were 3.9 points better when he anchored the interior.

Remember Whiteside getting snubbed from the All-Star Game? Maybe not, because if memory serves, there were some more deserving names left off those rosters. But he chalked up his All-Star omission as another dis from his doubters.

"The same people that said I couldn't play are probably the same people that didn't vote for me," Whiteside said in January. "I don't really listen to them."

He may not listen, but he seems to hear them just fine. Ever since the "snub," he's been playing like an All-Star.

Revenge

Whiteside looked like a natural during his playoff debut in Miami's series-opening 123-91 win over the Charlotte Hornets. He needed just 11 shots to record 21 points and snagged a game-high 11 rebounds in only 26 minutes of work.

"He's an absolute force in there," said Hornets coach Steve Clifford.

Whiteside looked hyper-focused from the start, almost as if there were more at stake than getting his first sampling of postseason hoops.

Because there was.

For starters, the Tar Heel State native called it "surreal" to have the Hornets as his initial playoff opponent. But the feeling went beyond simply sharing a home base. According to the 26-year-old, he and his agent had previously tried to get him on the team.

"We tried several times. They didn't want me," he said. "There's nothing I can say about that. They said no several times, and we moved on to another team."

His personal revenge tour has provided more than enough fuel for his last year-plus of domination. Being denied the top individual defensive honor could propel him to even greater heights.

There are few rim deterrents more intimidating than him. His staggering block totals don't even account for all the shots he changes nor the ones he scares opposing players away from taking.

When he sets solid screens and explodes out of them—both of which he's done far more consistently since the All-Star break—he puts defenses into pick-your-poison scenarios. The Heat can pile up points on dribble penetrations, lobs to the big guy, kick-outs to open shooters or well-timed cuts off the basketball.

The angry, but controlled, Whiteside is a powerful two-way force, the likes of which most Eastern Conference playoff teams are ill-equipped to handle. Save for Andre Drummond—whose Detroit Pistons may need a miracle to escape the first round—there isn't another player in the field who can match Whiteside's combination of size, strength, mobility and explosiveness.

Miami's already-towering ceiling might grow several more stories with the 7-footer out to prove a(nother) point.

"You want to see him not happy with that," Dwyane Wade said. "You want to see that competitiveness in him to now go out and continue to prove he's a great defender."

That shouldn't be an issue. The affront just happened. The wound is fresh. It's frightening to think what that could mean for a player who's still driven by the snubs of seasons past.

"Being looked over for so long," Whiteside said, "just the journey to even get here, all the analytics people thinking they know what they're talking about—that's where [my aggressiveness] comes out.

"Every day I'm gonna go out there and give 100 percent. Every day is a day that you're going to remember me."

All quotes obtained firsthand. Statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.