20Q | Articles | Numbers

20Q: What can Hassan Whiteside provide for the Sacramento Kings?

Hassan Whiteside's numbers are fantastic, but what about his impact?

As the Sacramento Kings head into the 2020-2021 season, the roster feels a bit unfinished. Despite already employing the likes of Nemanja Bjelica, Jabari Parker, Richaun Holmes, and Marvin Bagley at the four and five spots, the Kings went bargain bin shopping for big men in the offseason and acquired three additional centers: Hassan Whiteside, Frank Kaminsky, and Chimezie Metu.

Metu and Kaminsky don't feel particularly important to the team in the long run, as their partial or non-guaranteed deals make them easy cuts or end of the bench pieces, but Whiteside represents a wholly different acquisition. He's walking into Sacramento as the former starting center for the Portland Trail Blazers, a team that performed at a much higher level than the Kings last season. While paired with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Whiteside put up numbers, averaging 15.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, and a league-leading 2.9 blocks per game, and his debut on Tuesday evening against the Golden State Warriors was right on pace with his 2019 campaign, as he put up 11 points, 9 boards, and 4 blocks in just 14 minutes of play.

Hassan's raw numbers, although impressive at first glance, aren't as godlike as they may seem, as his reputation as a stat-padder is well-deserved. However, that reputation also fails to completely negate his on-court impact or abilities either. Analysis of his game requires a unique blend of statistical investigation, eye-test observation, and a healthy dose of skepticism.

Even accounting for the wariness of Whiteside's somewhat selfish playing style, there are two areas in which he does excel, reputation be damned. Hassan is a world-class shot-blocker and glass cleaner, two facets of the game in which the Kings struggled mightily last season, as Luke Walton's squad placed 27th in the league in both rebounds per game and paint defense last season. Meanwhile, among players who defended at least six field goal attempts at the rim in 2019, Whiteside ranked third overall in stopping scorers in the paint, reducing his opponents' average field goal percentage from 62.1% to 49.5%, a differential of 12.6%. For comparison's sake, Richaun Holmes posted a very pedestrian 5.5% differential last year. The Kings haven't seen a shot-blocker of Hassan's caliber since the playoff drought began over a decade ago.

Along with this paint defense, Whiteside's rebounding prowess is another element of his game that may make him more valuable than some may wish to admit. Similar to his rim protection, he placed third in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage, snagging almost 30% of any available boards while on the floor, once again trouncing Holmes' output of only 19.1%. Sacramento's newest addition was also extremely effective in finding extra possesions for the Trail Blazers last year, placing in the 98th percentile in offensive rebounds.

Those positives by no means make Whiteside the All-Star caliber player his averages seem to indicate, as evidenced by his one-year minimum contract and the largest play decrease of any player in the NBA from 2019 to 2020. Similar to a three-point shooter who can do nothing else particularly well, Hassan is just about average in every area outside of shot-blocking and rebounding. Last year, he placed in the 60th percentile in the pick-and-roll, one of the main facets of Sacramento's offensive game plan, while he also showed a reluctance to get out in transition with his fellow guards, only participating in 22 fast break opportunities. Those habits and weaknesses certainly won't endear him to the likes of De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, two players who making their living in the pick-and-roll and open court opportunities.

Beyond the basic and advanced metrics, Whiteside is also known as one who will sacrifice team defense or interior positioning to swing wildly for a shot-block attempt or to steal a rebound from a teammate. He's essentially a lesser talented, center version of Rajon Rondo when it comes to individual numbers. That style of play, along with his penchant for frequent, frustrating bone-headed decisions, has been the driving force behind Hassan's nomadic career. His highs are extremely high and his lows are unfathomably low.

When the Kings were first linked to Hassan Whiteside days before they signed him, a spark of fear and frustration coursed its way through most of the fan base. Most were afraid that Monte McNair was going to throw some ridiculous salary Whiteside's way, perhaps the full three-year, $27 million mid-level exception, but those concerns were quickly put to bed once the contract was actually announced. Although Hassan at the full MLE would have been a horrible decision, inking him to a one-year, minimum contracts represents solid value for a rotational-level player, even with his annoying habits and less than stellar reputation in the city of Sacramento. At 30-years old, he's not going to change who he is or what he does or doesn't do as a player, but Hassan Whiteside can provide some valuable minutes to the Kings as a backup center who makes no impact on the short-term or long-term cap sheet.

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ZillersCat
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December 16, 2020 10:33 am

Probably this?
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RobHessing
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December 16, 2020 10:38 am

Rotation issues and comic relief?

Seriously, Whiteside is probably the best big man that the Kings have on 12/16/20. Holmes is more fun to watch and a healthy Marvin Bagley would likely overtake Whiteside in quick fashion, but Whiteside is better than Alex Len, especially on his contract.

Whiteside would have been on my shortlist for players that I would not have wanted here, but on a one year minimum deal he (hopefully) brings enough value to secure at least a couple of 2nd round picks at the deadline from a playoff contender looking to shore up their bench big depth. Anything beyond that is gravy.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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Nostradumbass 14
December 16, 2020 1:52 pm
Reply to  RobHessing

I think he is also playing for his NBA life. If he flames out in Sac on his minimum deal, be it playing style or attitude, his NBA career is likely over.

andy_sims
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December 16, 2020 3:22 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

And then all he’ll have is his hundreds of millions of dollars.

rc50cal
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December 17, 2020 7:45 am
Reply to  RobHessing

Well reasoned and I hate it. 😆

RORDOG
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December 16, 2020 10:50 am

I just want to know if Whiteside is a good person. I’m all for rooting for the guy as long as he’s a chill dude.

RikSmits
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December 16, 2020 10:55 am

A great mentor for our young guys to show that you can have low BBIQ, pick your spots and succeed in the NBA at 70% effort. The value of that can not be expressed in (lack of) money.

I dislike this signing a lot, and IMO his contract does not validate having him around. YMMV.

Last edited 1 year ago by RikSmits
andy_sims
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December 16, 2020 12:12 pm

As I’m reading this, and the discussion of so-called “empty numbers” and stat-padding, I immediately thought back to the similar criticisms of Rajon Rondo. And then he got ink in this column, too.

Then, as now, I struggle to understand how categories such as blocks, assists, rebounds, and scoring can have their value diminished, simply because one makes the great leap of suggesting that a player’s motivations for accruing these stats are somehow impure. Unless you’re talking about garbage-time minutes (and even then), how can these player actions, all of which have tangible benefit to a team, be deemed less-than?

In Whiteside’s case, in last night’s game, which of his four blocks would you presume to say were “empty?” The ones where the shot had no chance of going in? Should HW make a determination as to the shot’s likelihood of dropping in real time, and only go after the subsequent rebound? Or would that make the rebound “empty,” and he should therefore let a teammate try to get the board?

When the Kings had a big lead, and Kyle was still shooting threes, was that stat-padding? Which of Whiteside’s buckets would you declare “empty” in a one-point win?

I’d say that it’s interesting that this label seems to only land on a certain type of player, but it isn’t interesting in the least. It’s quite predictable, seems to be reflexive, and while I won’t go so far as suggesting that the use of such labels is overt, the pattern is apparent.

Now let’s get to shattering that thumbs-down record.

Last edited 1 year ago by andy_sims
jjdski
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December 16, 2020 12:29 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

Whiteside is the best center we have had for a while. I agree with you on the €œempty stats€. Dude makes an impact on the game when he’s on the floor, period. And quit trying to break my thumbs down record.

andy_sims
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December 16, 2020 12:35 pm
Reply to  jjdski

It’s only a matter of time, and you need to come to terms with that.

Kingsguru21
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December 17, 2020 8:39 am
Reply to  andy_sims

I don’t dislike you enough to create that many burner accounts, Sims. Don’t flatter yourself.

RORDOG
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December 16, 2020 12:59 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

The question is “did the team improve at X when Player Y was on the court?” If a team rebounds better when Player Y is on the bench, then it’s hard to say if their individual stats meant a whole lot. The thing with Whiteside is that his individual stats seem to help the team, but not as much as you think they would. Portland’s defense was better when Whiteside was on the floor last season. They improved from 114 points per 100 to 112. So they went from being really bad to slightly less bad. One would think the league’s leading shot blocker would have more defensive impact than “slightly less shitty.”

I do think people need to actually provide that context though. 2016-2017 was the only season in which the team performed better when Whiteside was on the bench. To me, that implies Whiteside’s production has a positive impact.

andy_sims
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December 16, 2020 1:31 pm
Reply to  RORDOG

That’s fine, but it essentially makes any production by a good player on a bad team, “empty,” since the ORtg/DRtg for a player is inextricably tied to the other players on the floor. Conversely, an average player on a good team is going to look a lot better on paper than he actually is. Plus/minus numbers have a similar bias baked in.

I don’t think that these stats are meaningless, but I also think that they’re not a great way to determine a player’s value relative to his team, unless the disparities are absolutely glaring. The eye-test would be clear as a bell.

Everything counts in winning or losing a game, and there just aren’t too many times when having more points, assists, rebounds or blocks brings a team down. The accusation of “empty stats” invariably tells me more about the person suggesting it, than it does about the player.

MichaelMack
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December 16, 2020 1:56 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

I agree with a lot of what you are saying Andy. I think a lot of those advanced metrics are important in context, but I dont think they are impeachable in trying to isolate an individuals performance in a team game with so many other mitigating factors, there is too much nuance to rely on the solely.

I think judging Hassan’s performance as a 16-24 minute role player, he will probably be very good for the Kings this season, as his strengths match up with the roster’s weaknesses. I would be disappointed if we were relying on him as a thirty minute a night starter, as his weaknesses would be much more glaring. I watched about 25 Portland games last year, and his mobility has gone down quite a bit, but he really does know how to use his size. He can probably be this generations Tree Rollins and contribute from the bench for quite a few years.

Last edited 1 year ago by MichaelMack
RORDOG
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December 16, 2020 5:35 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

I was more focused on the difference in a team’s stats when a player is on/off the court.

andy_sims
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December 17, 2020 8:41 am
Reply to  RORDOG

Using that metric, and with on/off, even moreso, any particular player has zero impact over what happens while he’s on the bench. If the team goes on a 20-0 run one night, or an 0-20 on another, it’s beyond his control. If he’s playing while his teammates go ice-cold and can’t hit a shot for six minutes, the raw numbers on his ORtg/DRtg look awful. Playing on a bad team would greatly amplify the effect.

I’d argue that even over the course of a season, these stats have so many variables as to mean very little. I’d grant that the ORtg numbers might provide some insight as they relate to a team’s point guard, since he sets the table on offense, but otherwise?

Credit where credit is due to the math guys, because some of the so-called advanced statistics do uncover a lot of information, but when a guy throws 11 points, 9 boards, and 4 blocks in just 14 minutes of play, doing a deep dive to parse the numbers down to quarks seems like a staggering waste of time.

Want2win
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December 16, 2020 2:57 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

What he ^ said

Otis
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December 16, 2020 8:07 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

The difference between Whiteside and Rondo (at least post-injury) was that Whiteside’s teams are generally better when he’s on the floor.

And you only get mixed effort instead of homophobic insults.

Hamlet1989
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December 17, 2020 7:31 am
Reply to  Otis

I’m actually so clueless that I thought it was a good thing when Rondo led the league in assists for the kings for a season. Good thing y’all are here to explain which stats are empty and which matter. Now if I can just figure out what Luke’s talkin’ ’bout when he says “play the right way”

rc50cal
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December 17, 2020 7:47 am
Reply to  andy_sims

this is a well reasoned argument in favor of the Whiteside experiment. Bravo

Mike120
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December 16, 2020 1:17 pm

I’m a €œclean slate€ guy. Focus on the present, not the past. Unlike many here, I was very happy the Kings got Whiteside. A big who can bang with the biggest Centers in the league. He’s the best shot blocker in the NBA. I don’t get €œempty stats€ unless they are during garbage time.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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December 16, 2020 1:58 pm
Reply to  Mike120

I take empty stats to mean numbers that don’t necessarily translate to wins or team chemistry. Wiggins is a classic example of this. Sure he may get you 20 points a night, but he is not making those around him better and he may give up 24 points.

For the Kings, does Hassan block shots? Yes, and he is very good at it, but does he play good defense and the answer is no. I’d prefer an elite on ball defender as opposed to an elite rim protector, especially in today’s perimeter oriented game.

andy_sims
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December 16, 2020 3:30 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

Watching Metu has been interesting in his limited minutes. He’s definitely not NBA-ready, but his defensive and passing instincts have been kind of impressive. I don’t know if the team has him on contract only in case all the bigs get Covid, but he seems like someone who’d show real improvement if he gets lots of minutes in Stockton.

HoustonJP
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December 16, 2020 8:23 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

Andy, I was impressed with his shooting mechanics and his ability to run the floor. I hope there is a way to keep him. I watched the two preseason game 4th quarters twice (rain here) and I like what I saw the second time around.

ImJoeKing
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December 16, 2020 10:54 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

The numbers I’ve seen have 14 players on fully guaranteed deals: Fox, Hield, Barnes, Bagley, Holmes, Joseph, Haliburton, Jeffries, Bjelly, Whiteside, Parker, James, Woodard, and Ramsey.

Kyle Guy is on a 2-way deal.

That leaves the three non-guaranteed deals (Robinson, Kaminsky, and Metu) for one roster spot and one 2-way deal. Since it’s not looking like the Stockton Kings will even be a thing this year the 2-way spots are likely going to be allowed as the 16th and 17th roster spots, two of these guys could still make the roster.

If that’s the case I’d be happy with Robinson, and Metu who looks more polished than projects of the past (PapaG, Skal, Bruno, etc.) and with more upside than Kaminsky.

Without the G-league it will be really hard to get enough minutes for everyone though, so it may not be worth the $1M just to keep another body at practice. McNair might also decide to keep a roster spot open to facilitate trades.

ImJoeKing
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December 16, 2020 7:12 pm

I like Whiteside on the team as he provides a skillset our other bigs don’t in elite rebounding and shot blocking. It’s better to have someone on the team with those skills than no one. Even though all our bigs have pretty obvious deficiencies.

It will be interesting how the big rotations work out. Giving enough minutes to Holmes, Bagley, Whiteside, and Bjelly will be tough on its own, and that doesn’t even account for small ball lineups with Barnes at the 4. Seems that, injuries notwithstanding, someone is likely to get squeezed. It won’t be Bagley, so it’s probably the least tradeable of the other three, my guess is Bjelly based on his, uh, slow start to the preseason.

kings4ever
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December 17, 2020 6:07 am

Whiteside has a lot of value as a high pick and roll setter in my mind just by his presence. All he has to do is stand there and let Fox or Buddy or whomever gain the advantage.

I think the pick and roll metric that you cite may be misleading bc the value of a high pick is often just to give the guard space to operate and create. Whether he rolls and catches for the score is less relevant than just creating high scoring opportunities .

Whiteside is so big the defender gets stuck, he has more of a “wall” to go around and that gives the man with the ball the half step edge he needs. We saw this last year when we added Alex Len. Whiteside looks to be bigger than Len.

The pick setter has to know where to position himself and hold the position. Whiteside has enough experience and timing that this is not a difficult ask, it is second nature.

There was one play last game where Buddy used the Whiteside pick and got into the lane with more ease and had more space to make a play. Whiteside is not given any statistical credit for this but helped make the play just by standing there.

Where Whiteside’s value is diminished is if you have equally immobile players on the floor with him, which is why I advocate against slugs like Joseph and Bjelica on the floor at the same time. It is very simple.

Unfortunately I don’t think our coach gets the elegance of simplicity. He’s all left brain. He’s not a holistic thinker.

Jman1949
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December 17, 2020 8:08 am
Reply to  kings4ever

The NBA Stats site tracks €œScreen Assists€

Screen Assists Definition: The number of times an offensive player or team sets a screen for a teammate that directly leads to a made field goal by that teammate. 

Whiteside ranked in the top 10 in that stat last season.

Hamlet1989
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December 17, 2020 7:44 am

“Whiteside’s rebounding prowess is another element of his game that may make him more valuable than some may wish to admit.” Sounds like Tim calling out the haters.

rc50cal
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December 17, 2020 7:44 am

I won’t disparage the man himself, but I can’t stand watching him play.

Hamlet1989
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December 17, 2020 7:59 am

I wonder If Laker fan is smart enough to realize that all the assists Rondo racked-up while helping them to another championship were all hollow and meaningless? Prolly didn’t even notice. They know nothing.

andy_sims
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December 17, 2020 8:25 am
Reply to  Hamlet1989

Makes you wonder why one of the all-time great players would have asked Rondo to join up in the first place. If there’s a player who’s smart enough to see through stat-padding, I’d have thought Lebron James might be that guy.

Hamlet1989
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December 17, 2020 8:53 am
Reply to  andy_sims

All Rondo’s championship rings are hollow too, until he puts ’em on.

Last edited 1 year ago by Hamlet1989
OakieNiner
December 17, 2020 8:44 am

Whiteside looks like a slug at times but there is no doubt in my mind that the dudes knows what his job is and plays within himself resulting in a high field goal percentage, a lot of rebounds, good assists, and overall good interior defense. If your going to judge a dude because he looks like he smoked a blunt before the game then Chris Webber’s all star stats didn’t help his team either. We have been crying about the Kings defense for years and here is a dude that appears to actually trend the Kings defense into a positive direction.

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