The late, outstanding defensive center Caldwell Jones, who had some great days as a backup center for the Trail Blazers, once told me a story about playing in the ABA, where his coach was the great Wilt Chamberlain.
Caldwell, just a kid then, had two big plus-20-point scoring games and Chamberlain, who once scored 100 points in a game, of course, called Jones aside.
“Be careful,” Wilt said to Jones.
“Huh? What do you mean,” Jones asked his coach.
Chamberlain responded, “You start scoring like that and people are going to expect you to do that all the time and I’m not sure you can.”
Hassan Whiteside can understand the story.
He had another monster game Saturday night, helping the Trail Blazers push past the Minnesota Timberwolves 113-106. And all Whiteside did was grab 22 rebounds, block seven shots and score 16 points. He is averaging 16 rebounds and four blocks over his last seven games and is coming off rebound games of 14, 23 and 17 prior to his 22 against the T-Wolves.
And, of course, he is raising expectations with every game. And now, as the great Chamberlain said many years ago, people are going to start expecting it every night. Which is, well, a lot to ask.
“When he’s playing like that, we’re going to have a great chance to win games,” Damian Lillard said. “On both ends of the floor – making free throws, making jumpers, being in the paint, getting us extra possessions. Coming up big with all those blocks and changing shots. He’s been huge for us.”
Lillard was reminded that Carmelo Anthony said, after a recent game, that when Whiteside doesn’t produce those numbers, “he’s teasing us.”
“I mean,” Lillard said, “when you see games like this game and the Golden State game, stuff like that – it’s almost like it’s obvious when he’s not doing it. It’s obvious when he’s not bringing it, because when he does, it’s like so obvious and it’s such a big deal for our team. So, tonight was a great game for him. A great game.”
Whiteside isn’t shy about expressing his self-confidence.
“I’m a defensive guy,” he said. “I feel like I’m the best rim protector in the league. It’s not even close.”
But he knows, too, about what’s expected of him.
“I feel like it’s that way with blocks,” he said. “When I came into the league my first year with the Heat, I averaged almost four blocks a game. And then the year after that, I led the league in rebounds and it was like, ‘Why didn’t he average four blocks? Is he not trying?’ And that was kind of a different era – a lot of three-point shooting. There was less scoring in the paint.”
And nowdays, getting anywhere near 10 blocks in a game – a figure Whiteside has already surpassed once this season – is incredibly difficult compared to what it was in earlier days in the NBA. In the current era, half the shots in some games are taken outside the three-point line, an area where you won’t see many blocked shots.
Whiteside doesn’t have nearly as many opportunities to block shots as Bill Walton or Caldwell Jones – Walton’s opponent in the 1977 NBA Finals – did. Prior to the onslaught of three-point shooting, the game was played much closer to the rim.
“In the old days it would have been amazing for me, for sure,” Whiteside said with a smile.
One edge Whiteside has in the rebounding department on his current team, though, is that he doesn’t have to fight many other players on his own team for boards.
There aren’t a lot of pure rebounders wearing Blazer colors this year.
But those numbers are so impressive and he’s bringing them with regularity.
Can we expect it every night? The Trail Blazers better hope so.