Yesterday the NBA announced the San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard had won his second straight NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. This news surprised almost no one. Leonard is something out of The Matrix. He is somehow always in five places at once. He is an unsolvable Rubik's Cube of a defender. He alone could bring a World Cup title home for the United States if Jürgen Klinsmann put him in goal for the U.S. Men's National Team.
So there's no real debate that Leonard deserved the defensive honors. What there is significant debate about in Miami is that the Heat's dominating center, Hassan Whiteside, finished third, trailing behind Golden State's Draymond Green. Even worse, a bunch of haters left Whiteside off their ballots altogether.
Whiteside, correctly, took that as a serious slight.
"I'm used to not getting credited for anything. I'm used to getting overlooked," Whiteside told reporters yesterday. "I've been looked over my whole life. I'm used to getting overlooked."
Whiteside received 83 votes, well behind Leonard (547) and Green (421), even as he averaged damn near four blocks a game. You can see the breakdown of votes here. There are definitely a sprinkling of media names that Heat fans are far too familiar with from the Miami-hating Big Three days.
In February, New Times published an article that did not go over too well. There was proof the Heat might be better off without Whiteside on the court. It was crazy talk, but that's what the numbers said. Up to that point in the season, the Heat had a defensive rating of 102.0 with Whiteside on the court and a 96.5 rating with him off the court.
Whiteside didn't quite get how people could come to the conclusion the Heat wasn't better off defensively with him on the court.
Well, it really didn't make sense, but the stats said it was true. Or at least it was true until Whiteside made it untrue — because from that point on, Hassan Whiteside was a completely different player. He made his point clear, even after returning to the lineup as a bench player: The Miami Heat is a far better defensive team with him on the court.
After a short, 17-minute return to action against the Dallas Mavericks that featured 5-5 shooting, nine rebounds, five blocks, and ten points, Whiteside completely exploded February 5 against, ironically enough, the Charlotte Hornets. Whiteside put up a ten-point, ten-rebound, ten-block stat line.
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SHOW ME HOW
Whiteside had 111 blocks in just 34 games. Yeah, he has
So amid the award debate, the fact is this: Whiteside has been the best defensive player in the NBA since he returned from injury. That itself has helped lead the Miami Heat to a third seed in the Eastern Conference.
But his turnaround was just a tad too late for NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors. And that's OK, because no one will overlook Whiteside again if the Heat makes a run at an NBA title this season.