The best move the Hornets can make to push for this year’s playoffs, retain it’s core, and avoid taking on contracts beyond this season is trading for Hassan Whiteside.
As I’ve written before, the Eastern Conference is a jumbled mess with just three games separating the No. 3 Boston Celtics (19-17) and the No. 11 Atlanta Hawks (16-20). If Charlotte can make a minor but impactful tweak to its roster by adding Whiteside and winning a couple of extra games, it could mean the difference between getting a Top-6 guaranteed playoff spot or missing the postseason outright.
Hassan Whiteside, the Sacramento Kings seven-foot traditional center, would be a perfect fit for the Hornets because Charlotte is terrible in two areas: First, they give up the worst opponent two-point field goal percentage in the entire league because they don’t have a big who can alter shots. Second, they rank just 22nd in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and give up far too many second chance opportunities.
A fringe playoff team like the Hornets that lacks shot blocking and defensive rebounding needs Hassan Whiteside.
An elite shot blocker and rebounder
Whiteside isn’t just a shot-blocking and rebounding specialist, he’s one of the best in the league in those two specific areas. He led the league in blocks in 2015-16 (3.7) and last year (2.9). He led the NBA in rebounding 2016-17 (14.1) and ranked third last season (13.5). His career 2.4 blocks per game ranks second among all active players and his 11.4 rebounds per game ranks third. A motivated Hassan Whiteside isn’t just good at protecting the rim and inhaling rebounds, he’s one of the most prodigious in the game.
The 31-year-old Whiteside was traded last season from the Miami Heat to the Portland Trail Blazers where he was an essential ingredient in helping Damian Lillard & Co. make the playoffs by playing 30 minutes per game and averaging 15.5 points (on a ridiculous 62.1% FG), 13.5 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks.
Whiteside is an odd fit in Sacramento this year. They are a youthful, rebuilding, lottery-bound team with a solid young-ish starting center in Richaun Holmes. As a result, Hassan is averaging just 14.6 minutes per game. But when he’s on the floor, he’s still highly productive. His per-36 minute averages 20.4 points, 14.2 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks dwarf those of Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo.
He’s still got gas in the tank.
A perfect contract to trade for
Despite the gaudy statistics, Whiteside isn’t known as a great team player. His effort and energy levels come and go. He has the reputation for hunting stats more than helping his team. He can get frustrated with his coaches, and they can get frustrated with him. There’s a reason why after finishing out a four-year, $98 million contract last season that the best offer he had this year was a one-year, $2.3 million deal with the lowly Kings. But Charlotte wouldn’t be looking for a long-term relationship. They would use Whiteside to make this year’s playoffs, and he could use the short-term change of scenery to play for a better contract next year.
A one-year, $2.3 million contract is perfect for the Hornets to take on if it means acquiring a center who can give them exactly what they need. The Kings likely won’t re-sign Whiteside next year so he can probably be acquired on the cheap. And by “on the cheap” I mean the Hornets could probably get him for one of their two 2021 second round picks, and perhaps throw in Nick Richards to close the deal. Charlotte wouldn’t even have to send out another player to match salaries and the trade still works. This way they can retain core players like Malik Monk and the Martin Twins while filling the gaping hole at center.
Whiteside’s potential role
I’d envision Whiteside taking the majority of Bismack Biyombo’s minutes as Cody Zeller’s primary backup, playing 12-16 minutes per game depending on the opponent. He could be a highly productive member of the second unit and could even dominate some opposing backup bigs.
Whiteside could be extremely helpful when the Hornets face teams with great rebounders who don’t often stretch the floor with their outside shooting, including Eastern Conference players like Clint Capela (Hawks), Domantas Sabonis (Pacers), Julius Randle (Knicks), Jarrett Allen (Cavaliers), and DeAndre Jordan (Nets). While Hassan might struggle to close out on bigs who can hit 3-pointers like Joel Embiid (76ers) and Nikola Vucevic (Magic), he would do a better job contesting their shots in the paint and challenging them on the boards than Zeller or Biyombo can do.
On nights when the Hornets face off against small-ball teams, Whiteside might not play much in those games, and that’s just fine. He would have a specific role of protecting the paint and gobbling up rebounds in matchups where he wouldn’t get run off the floor.
We also need to remember that injuries happen in the course of an NBA season. This goes double for Cody Zeller. If Zeller goes down for a couple of weeks again, the roster gets really tight really fast when Bismack is thrust into the starting lineup. Adding Whiteside to the equation not only gives the Hornets a skillset they desperately need, it also gives them added depth should the injury bug bite.
Now, Hassan Whiteside isn’t the Hornets savior. He isn’t going to single handedly transform this team into a playoff contender. But he has a specific skill set the Hornets clearly need. He’s on a cheap one-year deal. He makes much more sense helping the Hornets make a playoff push than watching the Kings prepare for the lottery. He’s exactly what Charlotte needs as they are walking a razor-thin margin of making or missing the playoffs.
Mitch Kupchak, make this happen!