Boom or Bust

Marshall's Hassan Whiteside presents scouts with a major dilemma

Marshall freshman Hassan Whiteside is the biggest boom-or-bust prospect likely to go in the NBA lottery.
Editor’s note: starts its series of draft profiles today with a look at Marshall’s Hassan Whiteside, one of the players who could be under consideration when the Pistons pick at No. 7 in the June 24 draft. Next: Ekpe Udoh.

If you had $1 million in your pocket and had the luxury of losing it all or turning it into $1 billion, maybe you’d pick some obscure company doing pioneer work in alternative energy, where the players are many and the chances for failure are great but the rewards could be unimaginable.

That’s Hassan Whiteside, the biggest boom-or-bust prospect likely to go in the NBA lottery on June 24. The flip side of the coin is Kansas’ Cole Aldrich, who is relatively easy to project based on three years on a talent-laden college roster where he contributed steadily but rarely dominated.

As sure as NBA scouts are that Aldrich has a 10-year career ahead of him as a solid rotation piece, they’re that wary to go out on a limb and say Whiteside will still be in the league once the first two guaranteed years of a first-round pick’s contract are up.

Then again, neither will you find many who’d back away from Whiteside’s potential to be an impact defender who has a chance to round himself into a double-digits scorer, as well.

The Pistons, coming off a 27-55 season in which major holes in their frontcourt were revealed, might not have the luxury of taking a flier on Whiteside, who a year ago was a relatively unheralded recruit largely ignored by ACC schools even though he grew up in the heart of Tobacco Road. Whiteside wound up signing with Marshall, where he immediately began putting up eye-popping shot-blocking and rebounding numbers in addition to showing impressive shooting and ball skills.

Though he’s a one-and-done player, Whiteside will be 21 on draft night – more than two years older than some of his fellow freshmen, further complicating the projection process for scouts. He’s a classic late bloomer, sprouting up 6 inches as a high school sophomore and 2 more since arriving at Marshall, he said in Chicago at the NBA draft combine.

More on Hassan Whiteside
College: Marshall

Size: 6-foot-11½ , 227 pounds

Age: 21 on draft night

The good: Quickness, agility and freakish length make Whiteside a candidate to become an impact defender. … Late growth spurt means he also comes with natural perimeter skills, as well, including a nice shooting touch.

The bad: Very slight frame, narrow shoulders mean he could be overpowered by even competent back-to-the-basket scorers. … Scouts question maturity, basketball IQ, as evidenced by his mere nine assists last season.

The skinny: Given their needs, can the Pistons afford to roll the dice on the player with the biggest boom-or-bust quotient of all lottery candidates? Maybe, if they think his ceiling is high enough. The best guess is he goes closer to the middle of the first round.

That explains his unusual perimeter skills, which combined with his freakish length – his wing span of 7-foot-7 puts him well ahead of the field – make Whiteside such an intriguing prospect.

But there are major red flags to consider. Whiteside accumulated just nine assists all season, turning the ball over 6.1 times for every assist. He shot less than 60 percent from the foul line. He weighed 227 pounds in Chicago and his narrow shoulders make it doubtful he can do much to significantly bulk up and hold defensive position. And there are questions about his maturity level.

It’s fine to be confident, but when Whiteside was asked in Chicago about the frequent comparisons of him to a young Marcus Camby, he scoffed and said, “Naw, I don’t think Marcus Camby can shoot, doesn’t have the stroke like I’ve got.” He compared his game to Hakeem Olajuwon – Whiteside worked with Olajuwon before the Chicago combine for a week in Houston – and said, “I’m looking to be a Hall of Famer. I’ve got big goals.”

Whiteside said last week that he had individual workouts scheduled with several teams picking both before and after the Pistons in the lottery and it’s conceivable he could push himself into the top five given his vast potential. It’s also possible he could slide out of the lottery altogether given his vast potential to bust.

His best chance to contribute early in the NBA will come as a weak-side shot-blocker when his coach can find minutes for him in a matchup where he won’t be overpowered. If Whiteside can guard a non-scoring big man, reducing the chance for him to be isolated, his agility, quickness and reach could make him a major defensive menace.

Though most believe Whiteside’s shot-blocking ability will translate to the NBA if he can shore up some of the weaknesses in his game enough to earn minutes, some wonder if the level of competition in Conference USA didn’t wildly inflate his numbers. In a January game against West Virginia, the best team on Marshall’s schedule, Whiteside played pretty well with 18 points and six boards, but registered only two blocks. He put up three double-doubles, though, and perhaps his best game came against a very good UTEP team in an 80-76 home loss when Whiteside had 20 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks.