Thursday January 29th, 2015

After spending years trying to make it back to the NBA, Hassan Whiteside has made a name for himself by becoming a key cog for the Heat.

Whiteside did not play in the NBA during the 2013-14 season. He also didn’t suit up throughout the '12-13 campaign. In fact, the last time the 7-footer stepped on the hardwood in an NBA game before bursting onto the scene this season was back in '11-12, when he played for the Kings before getting waived.

Since that time, the big man played stints in the D-League, Lebanon and China. He didn’t give up on his dream of returning to the highest basketball stage and “spent the summer dialing NBA teams seeking a tryout,” according to the Associated Press.

The Grizzlies signed Whiteside back in September, but released him less than a month later. From there, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra decided to provide the youngster with an opportunity to prove himself. Truly, he was the perfect low-risk, high-reward pickup for a team in desperate need of size.

By averaging just 37.3 rebounds per game, the Heat rank dead last in that category. Aside from Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen, the only rotational big on Miami’s roster was Josh McRoberts -- but he was lost for the season after suffering a torn meniscus in his right knee in December.

That opened up a window of opportunity for Whiteside.

He was originally signed by the Heat on Nov. 25, but he didn’t get much playing time early on. The 25-year-old was used sparingly and first showed promise on Dec. 19 against the Wizards. He finished with six points (3-of-3 from the field), seven rebounds, two steals and a block. However, he racked up five personal fouls in just 16 minutes.

From there his role gradually started to take shape before taking off in January. Here’s another look at Whiteside’s '14-15 game log, this time including blocks:

In the first month of the new year (through 10 games), the towering center is averaging 12.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and an astonishing 3.6 blocks per contest while converting 67.5 percent of his field goals. He’s put up those January numbers in 23.2 minutes per game while limiting his foul trouble -- averaging 2.8 fouls.

Overall, Whiteside is averaging 2.42 blocks per game. If he played enough to qualify for the leaderboard, that mark would rank him No. 2 in the league, tied with DeAndre Jordan.

In a 104-90 blowout win over the Los Angeles Clippers, Whiteside finished with 23 points, 16 rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Included in the outing was an athletic swat of Clippers forward Matt Barnes and a thunderous, Shaquille O’Neal-esque two-handed slam off an alley-oop from Dwyane Wade.

His magnum opus to this point, though, occurred on Jan. 25 against the Bulls. Whiteside posted a triple-double with 14 points, 13 rebounds and a franchise-record 12 blocks in just 25 minutes.

Even though the Heat big man has had a number of negligible appearances -- five games with less than 10 minutes played -- his player efficiency rating (PER) sits at a career-best 26.9. That mark places Whiteside sixth in the league among a variety of impressive talents:

The only negative this season has been his free throw shooting (54.8 percent), but that’s become pretty typical for hulking centers: Dwight Howard (52.7 percent), Mason Plumlee (49.2 percent), Andre Drummond (41.8 percent).

Whiteside is becoming a household name as an underdog who now looks like a legitimate NBA difference-maker. He may never blossom into a superstar, but he’s making a huge impact for a Heat team fighting for a playoff spot.

If he’s ultimately the difference between a postseason berth and a spot in the lottery, Spoelstra​ deserves even more credit for unearthing this hidden talent.

Note: All stats used are accurate as of Jan. 28 (prior to games played) and the visuals will update automatically.

FindTheBest is a research website that has collected all the data on the Miami Heat and Hassan Whiteside and put it all in one place so you don’t have to go searching for it.

Join FindTheBest to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Teams and thousands of other topics.

More from FindTheBest:

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.