My grandfather's been kind of down the past few months. He's 95 years old and so there are myriad reasons why he's struggling. One major change: the Miami Heat no longer offer him the respite that they once did. My grandfather -- "Popi" -- is a huge Heat fan. He watches every game and reads about the team in the paper every day. He often calls me about them, too.
The frequency of those calls dropped this year because of the team's struggles. When he's called, it's mostly been to ask how a team can play so poorly.
Then Sunday happened.
I got a call from Popi in the afternoon. He was ecstatic. It was halftime of the Heat-Clippers game -- a game the Heat would eventually win, 104-90 -- and someone named Hassan Whiteside had come off the bench to record 12 points and 10 rebounds. It was the happiest I've heard Popi in months.
Whiteside went on to finish with 23 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 29 minutes. He hit 10 of his 13 shots from the field and has now scored in double figures in four straight games. Where did this guy come from?
The 25-year-old has played in just 13 games this year and is averaging only 14 minutes per game. But he has the second-best net rating of anyone on the Heat and has Heat fans salivating at how good the seven-foot, 260-pound center may be.
Popi spent all of halftime telling me how great Whiteside is. How he's big, but can move, too. How he can score in the paint and also block shots. How brilliant team president Pat Riley was to bring him in.
That Whiteside has only played well for a week doesn't matter to Popi or Heat fans. They're starved for something to appreciate. They miss the excitement of the LeBron James Era.
Who is the man that they're all now using to fill this void? Here are three things to know about Hassan Whiteside.
His path to the NBA was long and winding
Here are the places where Hassan Whiteside has played basketball since leaving Marshall following his sophomore year. He started in Sacramento for the Kings, who drafted him in the second round on the 2010 NBA Draft. Then there were (deep breath) stops in Reno, Nevada, to play for the Bighorns; in Sioux Falls to play for the Sky Force; in Hidalgo, Tex., to play for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Those were all D-League teams. And how can we forget about the stints in Lebanon and China?
This past September, Whiteside signed with the Memphis Grizzlies, but was waived a month later. He then went back to Rio Grande, but was quickly traded to the D-League's Iowa Energy. The Grizzlies signed him again on Nov. 19 ... but they waived him again the next day. Then, he signed with the Iowa Energy again.
Finally, on Nov. 24, Whiteside signed with the Miami Heat. There was a quick stop back in Sioux Falls in the middle of December, but Whiteside is now a member of the parent team and part of their rotation. Not bad for a guy who was rejected by every team in the league, including the Clippers club he dominated.
Whiteside's greatest impact has been on offense
This is probably the most intriguing part about his game. Seven-foot centers should be able to help a team defensively no matter how raw they are, and Whiteside certainly has. He's averaging 4.4 blocks per 36 minutes and holding opponents to 48.3 percent shooting at the rim, a number better than Anthony Davis' and DeAndre Jordan's. When he's on the court the Heat's defensive rating drops from 106.5 to 103.8.
Here he is stuffing a Blake Griffin dunk attempt on Sunday.
But Whiteside is no scrub on offense. Not only has he shown that he can finish alley-oops and crash the boards, but Whiteside has also flashed the ability to post up and finish with both hands.
Here he is hitting a right hook over DeAndre Jordan on the left block.
And here he is with a lefty hook over Jordan in the lane. Whiteside gets his first shot attempt blocked, but sticks with it and actually backs Jordan up a bit with a strong shoulder to his chest.
Whiteside isn't the second coming of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but don't look at Whiteside's shot chart from Sunday and assume every basket was the result of work that someone else on the team put in. He has some offensive skills.
hot hot hoops
Heat fans are singing his praises ... and he loves it
This tweet was retweeted by Whiteside on Jan. 9.
It's amazing that the song was made in the first place ... and that Whiteside retweeted it afterwards.
Who knows where any of this goes, but for now, let's all just enjoy the ride. The Heat needed a shot in the arm and a man who once played professionally in Lebanon is providing it.