Hassan Whiteside likes to tell everyone that he’s “different.”
But in one key area, the Heat’s troika of 19-to-26 year old rotation players – Whiteside, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson – is vastly different from many other evolving young players.
“We have a young group of guys that like to play defense,” Whiteside said. “That's rare nowadays, to find guys that love playing defense. Most people are celebrated for scoring. When you find guys that like to play defense, you get wins.”
It has taken Joe Johnson less than a week with the Heat to appreciate the trio’s defensive acumen.
“It's great they're defensive minded,” he said. “You don't see that in young ages. They know and understand to be on the court, they've got to make an impact somewhere.”
### Not only is Whiteside, 26, leading the NBA in blocked shots at 3.89 per game, but he’s obliterating the competition.
This is pretty remarkable: The player who ranks second in the league in blocks, Utah’s Rudy Gobert (at 2.46), is closer in blocks to the player who rank 37th on the list (Amir Johnson) than he is to Whiteside.
For historical context, Whiteside’s blocked shots average would be the highest in the NBA since Alonzo Mourning averaged 3.91 for the Heat in 1998-99, when a lockout shortened the season to 50 games.
Over a full 82-game season, Whiteside’s average would be the highest since Dikembe Mutombo swatted away 4.49 per game in 1995-96.
In the 42 seasons since the NBA first started tracking blocks as a statistic, the league leader has averaged at least 4.0 blocks per game on 13 occasions. But all 13 happened over the first 23 seasons (1973-1996).
Mark Eaton did it three times, and Dikembe Mutombo, Hakeem Olajuwon and Manute Bol achieved it twice apiece.
Nobody has averaged 4.0 per game in 19 seasons since, but Whiteside is making a run at that. For perspective, last season’s leader in blocks per game, Anthony Davis, averaged 2.94, with Whiteside finishing at 2.6.
Whiteside, 26, said averaging four blocks would be meaningful and help in his efforts to win Defensive Player of the Year. “I wish I could average five,” he said.
From a rebounding standpoint, Whiteside ranks fourth at 11.7 per game, behind only Andre Drummond, Jordan and Dwight Howard.
### Winslow, meanwhile, is holding the player he’s guarding to 42.7 percent shooting, more than one point below what that player shoots overall.
There are 39 players from the 2015 draft class who have appeared in an NBA game this season, and Winslow’s 42.7 is 10th-best.
But among rookies who have played in at least 30 games; only the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant and Chicago’s Bobby Portis are holding opponents to a lower shooting percentage than Winslow has done.
For perspective, the players guarded by Winslow are shooting worse than players defended by Andre Iguodola (43.8), Paul Pierce (44.2), Kobe Bryant (45.2), Jimmy Butler (45.9) and Luol Deng (46.4), among many other wing players.
Winslow, 19, also has improved his rebounding recently and his 9.1 rebounds per 48 minutes rank 14th among 58 qualifying small forwards.
“Justise is a very good perimeter rebounder, but now he’s sticking his nose in there as we need it, gang-rebound mentality,” Erik Spoelstra said.
### Richardson, 22, ranks 13th in field-goal percentage allowed among 39 rookies, with two lottery picks just ahead of him. “I see a lot of growth; I like what he’s been doing,” Dwyane Wade said.
Players guarded by Richardson are shooting 44.5 percent, a point less than they do otherwise. That 44.5 is better than shooting percentages allowed by point guards Rajon Rondo (44.7), Mike Conley (45.1), Tony Parker (45.9), rookie No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell (46.1), Chris Paul (46.5) and others.
“Defensively, that's their niche,” Johnson said of Whiteside, Winslow and Richardson. “They stick with it. They've got their little defensive club. I'm trying to join the young guys in the defensive club. I'm always teasing them.”
### Guard Tyler Johnson, recovering from shoulder surgery, said he’s able to do everything on the court except shoot. He still has pain when he shoots and has been advised not to do that until the pain subsides. He said he remains optimistic about an April return.
### Whiteside has 148 points, 124 rebounds and 31 blocks in his last eight games. According to Elias, that’s the most in each category over an eight-game stretch since Howard did it in 2008. And Whiteside has done it all off the bench.
MARIO WILLIAMS TALK
A few things to consider on free agent defensive end Mario Williams, who's visiting the Dolphins today, according to NFL Net's Ian Rapoport:
### Williams, 31, who found out last night that the Dolphins wanted to fly him in today (according to ESPN's Josina Anderson), is a four-time Pro Bowler, a first-team All Pro in 2014 and has 96 sacks in 10 seasons, the first six in Houston and last four in Buffalo.
But a strong case could be made that he's a player on sharp decline. Williams had only 19 tackles in 15 games and 1009 snaps last season --- a shockingly low number. Yes, he didn't ideally fit Rex Ryan's defense, because he was asked to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 and be more involved in pass coverage.
But his numbers are still worrisome. By comparison, Terrence Fede had 16 in 214 snaps for the Dolphins.
Williams had five sacks last season, after producing 14.5 in 2014, 13 in 2013 and 10.5 in 2012.
According to NFL.com's account today, Williams "was roundly criticized for taking plays off in 2015 and openly complaining about his role in Rex Ryan's defense."
### Pro Football Focus rated Williams' 2015 performance 93rd among 110 qualifying edge defenders. Despite the dearth of tackles, PFF did rate him in the top half against the run --- 46th.
By comparison, expected Dolphins free agent target Williams Hayes rated fifth against the run, Olivier Vernon 12th and free agent Derrick Shelby 19th.
### Williams has 8.5 sacks in his last eight games against the Dolphins. So that might inflate the Dolphins' opinion of him.
### If Vernon gets an offer above the $12.7 million transition tag, which wouldn't be surprising, don't be surprised if the Dolphins move on and try to sign two defensive ends for the price (or barely above) what Vernon alone would cost.
Instead of Vernon, it's easy to envision the Dolphins trying to sign two among Williams, the Rams' Hayes and perhaps Dallas' Jeremy Mincey or the Giants' Robert Ayers. Mincey rated 36th against the run last season, by the way.
### As for Cameron Wake, the Dolphins haven't threatened him with being cut if he doesn't agree to lower his $9.8 million cap hit and $8.4 million salary. They've told at least one NFL official that he's in the plans and that they want him to retire as a Dolphin. That said, nothing is assured in the NFL, and the Dolphins haven't guaranteed Wake that he won't be cut. At the very least, signing Williams would give the Dolphins leverage over Wake.
### Williams told Anderson that he would like to visit four or five teams "quickly, if possible."