Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow and the 3rd best defense in the NBA

In honor of last week’s Thanksgiving holiday, I thought it would be nice to take a moment and appreciate all that this year’s Miami Heat team has to be thankful for.

For starters, Miami and Pat Riley should wake up every morning and thank their lucky stars that an athletic seven-footer in Hassan Whiteside somehow managed to fall through the cracks, meander his way through Lebanon, China, and the D-League before finally sticking to the Heat’s roster last season.

Last year, Whiteside put up some pretty unbelievable numbers; numbers which led many to believe his feats would be fleeting and unrepeatable this season. The big man averaged 11.8 points, 10 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 23.8 minutes per game. Somehow, though, Whiteside has not only sustained last season’s success, but in many ways blown it out of the water.

Through 16 games this year, Whiteside is averaging 13.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, and an absolutely other-worldly 4.7 blocks in less than 30 minutes per game, a mark which if sustained for the rest of the season would place him fourth in NBA history in single season BPG.

While impressive, these numbers may not even be among Whiteside’s most impressive accolades this year. His 86.5 defensive rating, an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions, is not only good enough to rank him first this season (a whole 4.5 points ahead of the second placed player, Kawhi Leonard) but would also be the highest mark in league history, ahead of Ben Wallace’s 2003-04 season in Detroit where he put up an 87.5 defensive rating.

Whiteside is also first in the league in block percentage, blocking an eighth of opponent’s two point field goals (another mark which would shatter the current record of 10.8%), first in defensive win shares, and first in defensive box plus/minus.

To put it simply, through the first 16 games, Whiteside is blocking shots at a rate the league has literally never seen before, and it really isn’t even close. Whether or not he can sustain this success for an entire season is another matter entirely, but for the time being his defensive presence is absolutely something to behold.

Another fortunate find for which Miami has to be grateful is rookie Justise Winslow. Nobody in their right mind had the Duke forward falling to the Heat in June’s draft, but fortunately for Miami, Michael Jordan has performed his duties as Hornets GM largely out of his right mind, and did so yet again in the draft, taking Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky one spot ahead of the Heat instead of Winslow.

Through the early portion of this season, Winslow has been everything and more than the team could expect of a 19 year old rookie with little offensive polish. In his short time in the league, he’s found himself matched up one-on-one against the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and James Harden, each time proving himself capable of the defensive challenge.

When you look at Miami’s most effective lineups in terms of points per 100 possessions, Winslow is featured in all seven of their top lineups.

The rookie has also already made a name for himself as one of the league’s top perimeter defenders. Opponents are shooting just 28.2% when guarded by Winslow beyond 15 feet from the basket, ranking him ahead of All-NBA defensive teamers Kawhi Leonard, Tony Allen, and Jimmy Butler by a large margin.

Miami has gotten off to one of the East’s best starts, and it’s in large part due to their defensive prowess. Driven by players like Whiteside and Winslow, the team ranks third in the league in defensive rating, fourth in  3-point percentage, and first in opponent field goal percentage.

While the offense has yet to realize its full potential, it seems clear that the Heat will be one of league’s stingiest teams not only this season, but with their young core of stout defenders, for the foreseeable future as well.

photo via llananba