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2020-21 Kings Season Preview: Hassan Whiteside

Whiteside has the potential to be the defensive anchor the Kings need.

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Golden State Warriors v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our 2020 Kings Season Preview series, where we’ll be looking ahead to what this season will bring for every member of this Sacramento roster and pondering both best and worst-case scenarios. Today, let’s continue with Hassan Whiteside.

How did he get here?

Despite being the starting center for the Portland Trail Blazers — the eventual no. 8 seed — for the bulk of the regular season, a market never really materialized for Whiteside during the offseason. That allowed the Kings to bring their former draftee back to Sacramento, giving Whiteside a chance to write a new chapter with this franchise.

What is his best-case scenario for 2020-21?

Whiteside can be a legitimate anchor for this defense. His mere presence at the rim is a deterrent for opponents to take shots at the basket. His new teammate Glenn Robinson III joked that he’s only tried to dunk on Whiteside once in his career because it’s hard to get through all 280 pounds of the Kings center. He’s a tank. The best-case scenario for Sacramento would be that Whiteside continues to lead the league in blocks (as he did last year and in 2015-16), and is at or near the top of the NBA in defensive rebounding. Both of those would enable to the Kings to close possessions and get out in transition, though head coach Luke Walton made it clear that Whiteside shouldn’t be leading the break despite his success thus far in the preseason.

Whiteside also helps Sacramento’s pick-and-roll game with his screen setting. The Kings bigs last year didn’t make enough contact on their picks, but Whiteside really clears space for his ball handlers, and that gives them open lanes to the bucket or at least the ability to drive and kick when help comes. He’s also an excellent offensive rebounder and can give his teammates multiple opportunities to score on each trip.

Robinson also alluded to the idea that Whiteside can help bring some levity to the Kings bench. It’s going to be a strange season with all of the new safety protocols and no fans in the stands, but Whiteside seems like a genuinely funny person. His theatricality adds some entertainment value on the court, like when he flexes or stares at his hand after floaters, and that could be a necessary human element for this season.

What is his worst-case scenario?

Whiteside is in a contract year, and while that could bring out the best in him, it could also lead to some moodiness if the Kings continue to bring him off the bench in favor of Richaun Holmes. Depending on Walton staggers minutes, pairing Whiteside next to Marvin Bagley III could be a problem since neither player provides much spacing, and Whiteside really has to live in the paint to be effective.

Whiteside could also find himself out of place on a team that emphasizes pace; it’s one thing to lumber down the court against the Golden State reserves, but it’s quite another to consistently play in transition as a center who doesn’t exactly rim run. He might also be overtaxed with the amount of ball handling the Kings ask of their 5s at the top of the key. Furthermore, the best way to play defense with a player like Whiteside is definitely a drop coverage, and it’s possible that he doesn’t mesh well with assistant coach Rex Kalamian’s switch-happy ways.

The fact that the Kings even have Whiteside on the roster at a minimum contract is a huge win. This is a player who was projected to be worth $17.2 million by John Hollinger’s projection system this offseason, and Sacramento signed him for about 10 percent of that figure.

Whiteside has very defined strengths. He’s going to block shots, he’s going to rebound the ball, and he’s going to finish a lot of looks at the basket. But he also has defined weaknesses, namely his inability to do anything on the perimeter on either end of the floor. On a developing team like the Kings, his strengths matter a lot more than his weaknesses, and his production at the center spot will help the perimeter players focus on their games, knowing that Whiteside is in the middle of the floor, ready to clean anything up. This should be a good fit for both Whiteside and the Kings.

What are your expectations for Whiteside in his second Sacramento stint?