There is perhaps no player in Thursday's draft with less knowledge about where he is going to be selected than Marshall's Hassan Whiteside. The 7-foot center could be chosen in the lottery, according to several league sources, or he could slip down into the 20s, depending on who is willing to take a chance on him.
Whiteside could be this year's version of Hasheem Thabeet, the raw 7-footer from Connecticut who was selected by Memphis at No. 2 overall in last season's draft, leaving many to shake their heads in dismay when so many other talented, NBA-ready players were available. Whiteside is not going to go that high, for certain. But there is the chance that he could upend many mock drafts if an undersized team, such as Utah, feels it could use a shot-blocking big man in the middle.
"There is a lot of speculation in the league right now that he could move up around 10," one league source said. "Personally, I don't see it. But that is the word going around."
Whiteside has a lot of shortcomings. He has not interviewed well with many teams and is considered immature. At the pre-draft camp in Chicago last month, Whiteside spoke brazenly of being the No. 1 pick, of becoming a Hall of Fame player and compared himself to Boston's Kevin Garnett.
"I have big goals," he said.
He did not play in a big-time conference against the draft's mainstay players and spent the final two games of his lone year Marshall coming off the bench.
However, that all may be overlooked for a team that needs length and shot-blocking. Whiteside averaged an NCAA-best 5.4 blocks per game last season, in addition to scoring 13.1 points and grabbing 8.9 rebounds. He also recorded three triple-doubles (points, blocks, rebounds), one of which included 13 swats.
He is the classic NBA case of a risk-reward gamble. There is the chance that, if he fulfills even a fraction of what he plans to, he could make some general manager look very good, and his 7-foot-7 wingspan could give a team a presence in the middle for years to come.There is an equal chance that, if the red flags that are being raised about him come to fruition, he could be a wasted pick. So many teams fall in love with big men only to be sorely disappointed by their lack of development.
But Whiteside seems to be taking the right steps toward maturing and growing. He spent a week with Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon, getting tutored on everything from offensive moves, to the intensity needed on a nightly basis to compete at the NBA level. He said he will spend another week with the league's all-time leading shot-blocker before the summer is over.
"When I see a player like him, his reach is his strength," Olajuwon said in a phone interview from Toronto. "He knows he can put the ball on the floor and shoot. I was more or less thinking about his height advantage, what he can be doing in the post with his jump hook. He should be able to play small forward, power forward or center comfortably. I try not to limit him to a position. He has the skills and the height where he can play three positions as he matures in the league."
Olajuwon said several NBA teams -- he refused to identify which ones -- have called him to ask him his opinion of Whiteside. The former Rocket said that while Whiteside is young, he told the teams that their concerns about his focus are unfounded.
"When you see him, he is a gentleman, very shy," Olajuwon said. "That is his demeanor. So if you see him, you say he is not that enthusiastic about the game. But when you see him play, he goes after it. That works against him if you don't understand him as a person. His maturity? He is a young boy. Somebody has to look at what he is now and you have to look at his potential with the right training."
Olajuwon said he thinks it would be a mistake for a team to pick Whiteside and then send him to the D league in the same fashion that Memphis did with Thabeet last season.
"I was shocked Memphis made that decision," Olajuwon said. "That was the wrong move. If you are a big guy, you need to play. Give the boy a chance so that he can develop confidence. By sending him to the D league you are demoralizing him. Give him the opportunity. Being a shot blocker is enough to keep him on the floor. Give him time. That was wrong. It is not the right move. Give him time to develop."
That is precisely what Whiteside needs, the time to develop. Some teams don't have the time to take on a project and see their investment come to fruition in several years. Others can more readily afford it. But the infrastructure and the understanding that immediate gratification is not likely must be in place.
"He has all the tools," Olajuwon said. "If he goes to the team that has a good big man he can practice against, he can get confidence. If he gets the right coach that knows that he is a talent and will play him and encourage him, he can come along quickly. But as you know, with the draft, he does not know what to expect."