Last season ended in heartbreak. The last thirty seconds of game five against the LA Clippers haunts my nightmares. It was over long before that, but man. It wasn’t supposed to end that way. My heart sank into my stomach. Jazz fans, myself included, spent the next few days replaying it over and over. What went wrong? Was it Mike Conley’s injury that kept him off the court for most of the series? Donovan’s lingering pain from his ankle injury? Quin Snyder’s affinity for tight black pants and Gucci belts overtaking his ability to make any timely adjustments? A fictitious unsalvageable relationship between our two stars that maybe wasn’t fictitious at all?
My go-to coping strategy is wild, unfounded speculation.
I imagine the Utah Jazz front office had a similar reckoning with what went wrong in the playoffs. Luckily, it seems that the people in charge did not think it was necessary to jump to any of the aforementioned worst case—one which is highly unlikely—scenarios.
In fact, based on their actions during this offseason, the front office seems to think the remedy for whatever went wrong lies within a few small yet possibly potent changes. One of those changes is signing veteran center Hassan Whiteside.
Shortly after parting ways with Derrick Favors (again), the Utah Jazz signed Whitesides to a one-year deal. The deal must mean the front office believes the 7-foot, 265-pound Whitesides will fit within the team as a backup to 7-foot-1, 260-pound Rudy Gobert.
With nine years of experience, Whiteside is a proven defender. He averages 2.3 blocks per game. He chases down field goals with a defensive ferocity that nearly rivals our very own 3-time DPOY, who averages just 2.2 blocks per game. Nearly. Kind of.
While lacking the overall effect of Gobert, Whiteside has certainly earned his reputation as a shot blocker. This was seen in the Sacramento Kings game against the Brooklyn Nets back in February. The game also showed that he could even hold his own offensively. The Kings lost that game, but still… it was a good game.
It was a record night for Whiteside. He filled the stat sheet and set a new NBA record as the first player in over 40 years to record at least 25 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists while playing less than 25 minutes.
It is unlikely that this type of record-setting performance will make a regular appearance in Utah and on the road. Nonetheless, Justin Zanik and the rest of the front office is hoping that Whiteside can provide the needed help coming off the bench.
Fan Favorite Favs
One of the big questions about Whiteside is how he will fit into the lineup and whether or not he will end up filling the role of once-again-former Jazzman Derrick Favors.
The regular lineup has largely remained the same. Early on in the offseason, the Jazz parted ways with Favors for the second time. Despite playing limited minutes, Favors played well during the reprisal of his role. Fans were stoked when the Jazz re-signed Favors before the start of the 2020-2021 season, and many were hurt all over again to see him go the second time around. One fan even had to talk to her therapist about it. (It was me. I’m the one fan.)
Last season, Favors averaged 5.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1 block in just 15.3 minutes of play. This is a smaller contribution compared to his career average, but his contribution during limited minutes still provided a solid backup coming off the bench, allowing Rudy to get at least some rest. In comparison, Whiteside averaged 8.1 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks during 15.2 minutes in a Kings uniform.
Favors worked well coming off the bench behind Rudy, often playing through the middle of quarters. Whitesides is a gamble, but there is a chance that he could play Favors’s role and do it more efficiently. Fans will have to wait and see if Gobert and Whiteside can put their rivalry behind them.
Social Media Shade
On more than one occasion, the two centers have traded barbs one social media. Nothing too serious. Unless it’s completely serious and we end up having another “unsalvageable” relationship on the team, although this is unlikely. Whiteside told reporters that there is no rivalry.
“We’re just competing. At the end of the day, I’m always happy to see a big man succeed in this league, especially somebody that blocks shots the same as I do” he said.
Most of their jabs center around who is the better center—a debate that Rudy has certainly won three times over. Still, Whiteside and Gobert do manage to grab about the same number of blocks. Per 36 minutes, Whiteside gets 3.0 blocks and Gobert gets 3.1 blocks. This creates the kind of competitive edge among teammates that can be a lot of fun to watch.