To be a good team in the NBA, you have to do the little things—pass, screen, box-out, etc. You also have to have the big building blocks, too; the All-Stars, the continuity, the experience.
But it starts with the little things.
The Miami Heat is already lacking the big things, but what’s absolutely killing them are the little things. It just so happens that one of the Heat’s more egregious offenders of the “little things” is Hassan Whiteside, their biggest player.
The fulcrum of which a basketball team’s offense pivots is the pick-and-roll. The most basic and nuanced action in basketball. When done correctly, with the optimal personnel, it is as deadly as any action on the hardwood. Every part of the pick-and-roll is essential, but it starts with a single screen; an action that puts the defense behind a half-step, allowing the offense to take advantage of the defense playing catch-up. That’s the idea anyways.
Pretty sure “put your hip into it” is something they say in dance class, not on basketball courts. The only way to describe Whiteside’s screens? Lazy. As devastating as Whiteside is rolling to the rim, he needs to make a formidable screen so the ball-handler can draw a second defender or be freed up for a jumper.
Just nudging a cutter’s defender with a screen can be the difference between a bucket or a lost possession. Which is blaringly obvious when Whiteside faces-off against a big man who doesn’t mind doing this own type of dirty work.
Whiteside either needs to move his feet quicker, get into position earlier, or just try harder, because these little things matter. Miami’s pick-and-roll ball handlers are averaging .688 points per possession, per Synergy Sports. That is the second-worst such figure league-wide, only beating out the bottom-dwelling Philadelphia 76ers (.679), who they recently lost to, 94-101.
Part of that gruesomely low average is due to Miami’s inability to finish around the rim; which can’t be corrected in-season. What can be corrected are the flaccid screens Whiteside puts up for his ball-handlers. This is one of the small things that makes a big difference, for better or worse; and it’s going to be up to Whiteside to choose which one it’s going to be.
For the first time, Whiteside is going to have his chance to be the best player on an NBA team, and that comes with a load of responsibilities. Putting up big numbers is one, and Whiteside has that covered. But besides just raw stats, he is going to have to step up to the challenge—meaning, no possession off and not being your own worst enemy.
Not to mention the new additions. The Heat have several second- and first-year players. It’s up to a team’s best player to set a precedent, to perpetuate a cohesive culture. It’s up to Whiteside to decide if he’s going to be that leader, the one that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James personified years prior.
From the outside looking in, it feels as if Justise Winslow might be the one to grab that vacant leadership role. A unique mix of stoicism and jubilance, Winslow has taken on a larger role for this Heat team, but he’s simply limited by his current level of experience. Still, one could make the argument that he’s one of the team’s more mature figure heads.
Miami’s tallest player is posting 18.8 points and 15.9 rebounds per game. Stellar, but he could do more of the little things—setting solid screens, passing, boxing out. As outrageous as it sounds, Whiteside’s rebounding numbers could possibly be even higher if he boxed out more. His physical abilities do most of the rebounding for him, and that enables him to forego boxing-out at times. But it's the extra effort and mental drive that determines a good player from a great player.
It is time to decide between All-Star or All-NBA (and more). Whiteside has the talent for the latter, but it’s the little things that are going to get him there. Whiteside has the chance to be the face of a franchise for years to come and it’s going to be up to the big man if he wants to put that burden on his gargantuan shoulders. If he doesn’t, someone else will.