Utah Jazz free agency: Grading the Hassan Whiteside signing

Hassan Whiteside has agreed to a deal with the Utah Jazz (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
Hassan Whiteside has agreed to a deal with the Utah Jazz (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports) /

With Derrick Favors making his second departure from Salt Lake City, the Utah Jazz found themselves in need of a backup center to spell Rudy Gobert. 

Hassan Whiteside and the Utah Jazz agreed to a one-year deal yesterday that is assumed to be worth the veteran’s minimum. Having parted ways with Favors, the Jazz were left without a conventional big man on their roster outside of 3x Defensive Player of the Year Award winner Rudy Gobert, besides physically gifted but unpolished soon-to-be sophomore Udoka Azubuike.

While the recently acquired Rudy Gay can provide the Jazz minutes at the 5 spot in smaller lineups, they’ll still need another reliable big to secure the glass and protect the rim. Was Hassan Whiteside the right decision, and what do the Utah Jazz need from him?

Utah Jazz defense

A big part of any conventional big man’s role is to block shots, and that’s exactly what the Utah Jazz are expecting Hassan Whiteside to do. Whiteside rejects field goal attempts like a supermodel at a small town ComiCon convention. However, does his career average of 2.3 blocks per game actually result in a meaningful defensive contribution?

A deeper dive into Whiteside’s statistical profile reflects some fair concerns in that regard. Last season, he posted a Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) of -0.6, alongside a mediocre 111 Defensive Rating.

The eye test substantiates the numbers, as Whiteside has rightfully developed a reputation for “chasing” blocks, sometimes at the expense of proper defensive positioning. There is still value in the sheer number of shots he will send away, however, evaluating Whiteside as a defensive player based on his raw block totals would be perilous. There’s a reason he has one of the best fantasy value-to-real life contract value ratios in the NBA.

Utah Jazz rebounding

Rebounding is a measure by which Whiteside will be unequivocally valuable to the Utah Jazz’s 2021-22 campaign. Whiteside’s career average of 15.8 rebounds per 36 minutes is nothing short of stunning. Unlike blocked shots, where inflated totals can sometimes reflect poor rim protection fundamentals, raw rebounding stats basically reflect a player’s rebounding value. Rebounds are supposed to be chased, and very few players in the NBA chase them like Hassan Whiteside.

For what it’s worth, Whiteside will make sure the Utah Jazz have a chance to control the boards for however many minutes per game he finds in Coach Snyder’s rotation.

Utah Jazz mentorship 

Here is an intangible by which Whiteside’s contribution to the Utah Jazz may ultimately be judged. This is a player who is no stranger to controversy, and has been accused of disrupting team chemistry on more than one occasion. With that said, Whiteside has been quiet over the past couple of seasons, and his willingness to play for the veteran’s minimum may reflect a maturation of his character.

The previously mentioned Udoka Azubuike projects to be a very similar player to Whiteside, ideally functioning as a low usage, high efficiency, rim-running, rim-protecting big. Can Whiteside teach Azubuike good habits, or will Snyder have him unlearning the same block chasing, stat stuffing tendencies that have made Whiteside a divisive figure in the league?

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Hassan Whiteside is not a player without flaws, and therefore, this signing is not beyond reproach. With that said, at the veteran’s minimum, Whiteside very much has an opportunity to be a high impact backup 5 for the Utah Jazz, and make good on their investment.

Grade: C+