Hassan Whiteside Has Been Best Surprise Of Jazz Season

Nov 25, 2021, 11:05 AM
Hassan Whiteside - Utah Jazz...
Utah Jazz center Hassan Whiteside (21) reacts to a play during an NBA preseason game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. The Jazz won 127-96. (Courtesy of Deseret News)
(Courtesy of Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – Entering the season, one of the Utah Jazz biggest questions was how Hassan Whiteside would fare having to replace fan-favorite Derrick Favors.

Towards the end of Favors first stint in Utah, he was widely considered the best backup center in basketball (despite starting at power forward) and gave the Jazz a big boost going up against opposing teams’ second units.

In 2019, the Jazz traded Favors to New Orleans to clear room to acquire Bojan Bogdanovic and Mike Conley but struggled to find an adequate backup center in his absence. The team tried out both Ed Davis, Tony Bradley, and rookie Juwan Morgan throughout the season, but none of the three proved they could hold down the job full time.

As a result, the Jazz dipped from being a perennial top-five defensive team in the league to the middle of the pack. Then, just one season after sending him to New Orleans, the Jazz made a significant investment in Favors during the 2020 offseason to bring him back to Utah.

Unfortunately, during Favors second stint with the Jazz last season, it was clear he’d lost a step athletically and was no longer as dominant against second units.

With Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert’s contracts pushing the Jazz deeper into the luxury tax this offseason, the Jazz had to unload Favors large contract and paid a steep price to do it. The team sent Favors along with a first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder get out from underneath the two years and $20 million left on his deal.

Then, with only the veterans minimum left to offer Favors replacement, the Jazz dialed up Hassan Whiteside to fill his shoes.

Whiteside was coming off a brutal season in Sacramento that saw him play in just half of the team’s games due to depth at his position, and the organization’s desire to play its younger players.

Entering the year, Whiteside felt like the Jazz biggest gamble of the offseason — signing a player coming off the worst year of his career, with questionable results during previous stops across the league.

However, through 18 games, it’s hard to argue Whiteside has been anything but the Jazz best addition from the summer.

Rudy Gay, the team’s other veteran addition is just now returning the floor after missing the first 14 games of the season after undergoing heel surgery, while rookie Jared Butler is fighting to find minutes in the rotation.

In their slow starts to the season, Whiteside has established himself as a reliable option for the Jazz off the bench.

Entering the night against Thunder, the big man was averaging 7.6 points and 7.2 rebounds and has a positive nightly plus-minus average at +4.1 per game.

Last season, the Jazz struggled mightily when Gobert was off the floor, as Favors ranked 11th on the team in plus-minus at just +0.5 in 15 minutes per game.

This season, even when their star center goes to the bench, the Jazz are seeing positive contributions off the bench, and that’s in large part due to Whiteside’s performance.

“He and Rudy have developed a good bond, too,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of his center rotation. “They’re not the same player, but a lot of the things that we’re asking Rudy to do we’re also asking Hassan to do and I think it’s it’s a good fit for him.”

It had to be difficult for the Jazz to trade Favors considering what he’s meant to the franchise over the last decade and having to part ways with a first-round pick added insult to injury. But Whiteside has been an upgrade at the backup center spot this, and so far it’s been worth the hefty cost.

“I felt strongly when I talked to him that it would be a really good fit for him,” Snyder said. ” I think he’s feeling that even in a short period of time, just the way we play. I think there’s a way to coach him that will help him, too.”

He may have not earned his way into their hearts just yet, but Whiteside is someone Jazz fans should be thankful for.

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