A year ago, Hassan Whiteside was perhaps the biggest mystery in the NBA.
His play only generated questions. Where did he come from? How did no one else give him a chance? How long can his excellent play last? Is it a fluke?
After years of searching for a viable option in the middle, Whiteside emerged in the 22nd game of the season for the Heat, totaling 11 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and a steal during the first NBA game he ever spent more than 20 minutes on the floor.
When he played 28 minutes two games later, the 26-year-old center cemented his place in the rotation, as he carried Miami to a victory over the Clippers with 23 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
Dominant centers rarely have trouble being identified, but the path to stardom for Whiteside took several intriguing turns.
The 7-footer out of Marshall was selected by the Kings with the 33rd overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft, but only made a two minute cameo in the season opener prior to being sent to the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Developmental League.
Whiteside played in a total of just 19 games before Sacramento released him and he went around the world to keep his professional basketball career alive.
Once the Kings waived him, the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBADL acquired him, only to send him to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Following the end of the NBA Developmental League season, Whiteside signed with a team in Lebanon, then went to China for two years.
Memphis revived his NBA career, earning an invitation to training camp, only to be waived a month after signing a deal. Rio Grande once again landed him, but sent him to Iowa in a trade two days later.
Five days after joining the Iowa Energy, the Grizzlies recalled him to the NBA, but waived him 24 hours later.
The wait to get back into the league didn’t last long, as Miami grew desperate for a center and took a flier on Whiteside just two days after he went back to Iowa.
All Whiteside needed was an opportunity to prove himself and if he had played in enough games to qualify among the league leaders, he would have ranked second in field goal percentage (62.8 percent), second in blocks (2.6 per game), 11th in rebounds (10 per game) and would have been one of just 13 players to average a double-double last season.
A lacerated hand as the result of an errant block at the rim forced Whiteside to miss three games last season, and without him in the lineup, the Heat dropped six out of eight late season contests, costing the team a playoff berth.
Miami is giving Whiteside every opportunity to display his wide array of skills, as he became the first player to average 11.8 points, 10 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in less than 24 minutes in over 50 years.
Only the primary question surrounding Whiteside entering this year — Can he handle the rigours of an 82 game schedule? — is looking bleak.
The team announced Monday that its starting center will miss at least another week to let his strained right calf heal.
The Heat still list Whiteside as day-to-day, but he has yet to practice with the team over since training camp opened over a week ago.
Whiteside sustained the injury just three days before the start of training camp and has been limited to free throw shooting, running on the treadmill, exercises in the pool and work on the stationary bike since the team convened.
Miami fell 90-77 in its preseason opener and he won’t be available Wednesday night as the team plays the Magic in Louisville, Kentucky.
Durability was the primary concern facing Whiteside as he enters this season, but it hasn’t really been reflected during the early returns of mock drafts.
Yahoo! has him ranked as the 29th overall prospect and he is being selected on average with the 32nd overall pick, so at the tail end of the third round.
There is plenty of intrigue surrounding Whiteside, but selecting him too early, when he hasn’t proven capable of producing over the course of an entire season, as a risky proposition.