A decade ago, the Kings selected DeMarcus Cousins with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Later that evening, they doubled down at the center position when they drafted Hassan Whiteside with the 33rd pick.
Whiteside didn’t last long in Sacramento. He wasn’t ready for the grind of the NBA and the Kings waived him on July 16, 2012 after two seasons and just 111 minutes of play.
Somewhere between stops in Lebanon, China and the G League, Whiteside figured some things out. During the 2014-15 season, Whiteside landed in Miami and became a walking double-double and shot-blocking extraordinaire.
Building up to free agency, there were murmurs of a potential Whiteside return to Sacramento. On Wednesday afternoon, those rumors were confirmed.
According to a league source, Whiteside is returning to Sacramento on a one-year, league-minimum contract with the Kings. New general manager Monte McNair signed the 31-year-old 7-footer on a low-risk deal to help support the team’s defense in the paint.
Whiteside is an advanced-stats dream. He averaged 15.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and a league-leading 2.9 blocks per game for the Portland Trail Blazers last season. He shot 62.1 percent from the field, although his range is limited to about 10-feet.
The raw numbers don’t tell the entire story. Whiteside finished the season with a 125 offensive rating and 107 defensive rating. Those are shockingly good numbers. He also managed to post 5.6 offensive win-shares and 3.0 offensive win-shares for a staggering 8.5 total win-shares, which ranked 12th overall in the NBA. For comparison, Nemanja Bjelica led the Kings with 5.3 win-shares last season.
Whiteside is a tremendous rebounder on both ends of the court. He has a huge 7-foot-7 wingspan and he protects the rim about as well as any player in the league.
On paper, he checks every box where the Kings are lacking -- interior scoring, rebounding and rim protection. Last season, the Kings ranked 23rd in offensive rebounds, 25th in defensive rebounding and 27th in blocks.
How does he fit?
Well, herein lies the issue.
There was a time when Whiteside could sprint the floor like a gazelle. Those days are over. If the Kings hope to push the tempo, then you need a big that can get out and draw a crowd. That’s just not Whiteside’s game.
His limited range is also an issue. The Kings have Marvin Bagley and Richaun Holmes in the post already, who both lack the ability to consistently hit from the perimeter. If the goal is to build a team around the speed of De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, then you need rim-runners or trailers that can hit a 3-pointer.
The Kings had a hole in the middle. They needed a rebounder and a rim protector. They found a massive center that will lead the team in both categories.
Unfortunately, the eye test and the advanced stats don’t really match up. Whiteside was consistently out of position last season in Portland. He hunted rebounds and gambled for blocks.
It’s a short-term deal with the Kings, but in many respects, signing Whiteside is confusing. This is an aging player who doesn’t fit the team’s player arc, isn’t known for his ability to make adjustments and can’t keep up with the speed of the rest of the team.
In addition, he is going to eat valuable time that could have gone to either Bagley or Holmes, which makes little sense. With the Kings clearly hitting the reset button, there is little reason to take a gamble on an aging 7-footer with major limitations. But he was the last starting-level center remaining on the board six days into free agency.
The grade would be lower, but this is a one-year, low-risk contract. If he doesn’t work out, the Kings have the ability to cut ties at any time at minimal expense.