Last year at this time Pat Riley was trying to get a meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge.
The Miami Heat didn’t have the salary-cap space to sign 6-foot-11 all-star but eventually they did talk about possibly playing for less or maybe signing a shorter deal elsewhere that would make Aldridge available in 2016.
None of that came close to happening. Aldridge signed a four-year contract with San Antonio.
Then came Hassan Whiteside, developing on the fly in Miami. He’s raw. He’s unpredictable. He’s not yet capable of reliably scoring 20 points per game.
If the Heat can keep Whiteside from signing with another team, they’ll have a free-agent thunderbolt of a player who is the equal of Aldridge in many categories and the best of anybody at blocking shots. What’s more, Whiteside is only beginning to tap his potential.
Here are the numbers from this season.
Aldridge, during the regular season, shot 51 percent, averaged 8.5 rebounds and scored 18.0 points per game.
Starting 31 fewer games, Whiteside made 60 percent of his shots with per-game averages of 11.8 rebounds and 14.2 points.
The biggest difference was blocks. Hassan led the NBA with 269. That’s a mind-blowing average of 3.7 per game. Aldridge wasn’t even in the top 20 at 1.1 and he’s averaged just one block throughout his long career.
Now let’s look at the playoffs, which is as fair a measure as any since both Aldridge and Whiteside started 10 postseason games.
Whiteside wins field-goal percentage, 68 percent to 52.
Whiteside wins rebounds, 10.9 per game to 8.3.
Whiteside doubles him up on blocks, 2.8 to 1.4.
Aldridge wins points per game, 21.9 to 12.0, and free-throw percentage, 89 to 59.
Is Aldridge a smoother scorer with safer to have in the lineup late in close games? Undoubtedly. He’s been in the league for a decade.
Whiteside will get better at all of that, but even if it’s only a little, remember the savage efficiency of all those lob passes Dwyane Wade sent his way for slam dunks late in the season? That’s a preview worth savoring.
For the moment, defense is Whiteside’s game. Listen to Riley, however, and you know why it matters on both ends of the court.
“It isn’t just an offensive game,” Riley said Wednesday. “You talk about up-tempo basketball, you go back and find our best offensive games and we probably held teams to 38 or 39 or 40 percent shooting. We were getting blocked shots, deflections, turning the ball over. Your offense is only as good as what you do on the defensive end.
“You want to explode out of there, then you better make some stops. You better rebound the ball. That’s why Hassan is so important to us. He’ll block shots. He’ll rebound the ball. He’ll change 10 other shots. He’ll scare the hell out of four or five other people coming into the paint. He’s got some intangibles that, simply, you just cannot find.”
Not even if you go to San Antonio, the team that won the 2015 bidding war for Aldridge.