It didn’t take long for Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside to record the first 20-point, 20-rebound performance of the 2017-18 season.
Twenty-four hours into the NBA campaign, Whiteside posted 26 points and 22 rebounds against the Orlando Magic in Miami’s opening game of the season. The 28-year-old center now has eight 20-20 outings in his career, which is the second-most in Heat history behind only Rony Seikaly’s 12.
Miami ultimately lost the game to Orlando – and Whiteside has been sidelined with a bone bruise in his left knee in the games since – but the big man’s dominant opener is a great sign for the Heat since the team is relying on the seven-footer to carry them this season.
Last year, Whiteside averaged 17 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, while shooting 55.7 percent from the field. In his debut, he picked up right where he left off; he shot 11-of-18 from the field and scored in a variety of ways, from nice post moves to dunks over defenders to a crucial three-pointer late in the game (which was his first three-point attempt of his six-year NBA career).
HoopsHype caught up with Whiteside to discuss his expectations for the 2017-18 season, his impressive development, his path from journeyman-to-star, what’s changed now that he’s the face of the franchise in Miami and much more.
You’ve developed a lot, even just in the years you’ve been with Miami. From the point you joined the Heat to now, how much have you grown?
Hassan Whiteside: I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better, man. And not just when it comes to the things like scoring or rebounding, but also understanding the game better, making the right plays and communicating with the guys. I think I’ve grown a lot.
How about from a leadership standpoint? Is that something you’ve embraced?
HW: Yeah, I’ve always been a guy who tries to lead by example, but sometimes I need to be more vocal. It’s important to talk to the guys and tell them what I’m seeing out there. I’ve tried to stay in those guys’ ears.
Where is your confidence level at right now?
HW: My coach has a lot of my confidence in me, and I already have a lot of confidence in my abilities. I’ve just been trying to get offensive rebounds and create extra possessions. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team.
You’re “the guy” now in Miami. What’s that adjustment been in like in terms of your responsibilities and how other teams prepare for you?
HW: I think the neat thing about this team is that anybody can have a big game on any night; it’s not just one guy. Anybody can be “the guy” depending on the night – as long as you’re trying to make plays for your teammates and, most importantly, trying to get the win. We’re unbelievable when we’re playing as one.
You’ve had one of the most interesting journeys of any player in the NBA. You left the NBA after two seasons, played in the D-League, went overseas to Lebanon and China, came back to the NBA and now you’ve had all of this success. What advice would you give to a player whose career is getting off to a slow start or who’s frustrated with the current situation they are in?
HW: View every day as a day to get better. Giving up isn’t going to do anything. You don’t want to look back on your career and say, ‘I gave up,’ or wonder [what could have been]. Every day, you have to work toward your dream and try to get better at this thing that you love. And eventually, those days add up to weeks, those weeks add up to months and those months add up to years. You’ll keep getting better. If you come in with the right mindset and push your body and work hard enough, you’ll be rewarded.
You’re doing great these days, but what were some of the low points for you prior to this success in Miami?
HW: Some of the lowest points of my life came when I was getting cut. Getting cut [by the Sacramento Kings in 2012 and Memphis Grizzlies in 2014], I knew I’d have to go overseas or go to the D-League and have to try to fight my way back into the NBA. Those were definitely some of the low points in my life.
When you’ve been through those lows and you’ve had to grind overseas, is it even more rewarding when you finally experience success?
HW: It’s definitely rewarding, but you still have to come out here and prove yourself every single day. The work doesn’t stop. And I look for little things just to motivate me even more. I hear guys saying, “He can’t do this,” or, “He can’t do that.” I use that as fuel.
Speaking of finding that fuel, when people discuss the best centers in the NBA, is where you rank another source of motivation? And do you feel you deserve to be atop that list?
HW: I mean, of course I feel like I belong up there. But a lot of guys feel like they belong up there. I just leave that for you guys to talk about. As long as I channel that [desire to be the best] in the right way, it’s fine. When I’m pushing myself to be the best, I’m pushing to help the team as much as I can.
Over the offseason, what was your main focus in terms of aspects of your game you wanted to improve?
HW: Man, anything and everything. I try to practice everything. Even something like pushing the ball up, because you never know when you’re going to end up doing some of that stuff.
Yeah, you just attempted – and made – your first ever three-pointer!
HW: Yeah, I shoot with Wayne [Ellington] and JJ (James Johnson) all the time! Even though it’s not in the playbook, you never know… You never know what situation you’ll find yourself in, so I just work on everything. I just love basketball, so I work on everything.
What are some personal goals and team goals that you’re setting for the 2017-18 season?
HW: Well, personal goals don’t really matter if the team goals aren’t met. You can have all these big numbers and do a whole lot, but if your team loses, they aren’t going to give you any accolades.
As a team goal, I’m always going to want to go for that championship. I think this is a 50-plus-win team. I’m not getting caught up in [our loss to Orlando]. The defending champs lost their first game, so I’m not getting caught up in us losing our first game. I believe in these guys and I know these guys believe in me, so we’re just going to keep rolling.