Miami Heat mailbag: Is Hassan Whiteside the best center in the Eastern Conference?

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) looks for an opening past Boston Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk (41) and guard Isaiah Thomas (4) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Nov. 28, 2016, in Miami. The Celtics defeated the Heat 112-104. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) looks for an opening past Boston Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk (41) and guard Isaiah Thomas (4) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Nov. 28, 2016, in Miami. The Celtics defeated the Heat 112-104. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Heat will begin their three-game road trip Wednesday night with nine available players.

Injuries have hurt Miami to start this season, as 12 Heat players (including Chris Bosh) have already combined to miss 83 games. But the one constant for Miami has been center Hassan Whiteside.

But is Whiteside the best center in the Eastern Conference? In this week’s installment of the Heat mailbag, we answer that question and more.

If you weren’t able to ask a question this week, send your questions for future mailbags via Twitter (@Anthony_Chiang and @tomdangelo44).

@dennisao34: Is Hassan Whiteside the best center in the Eastern Conference?

Anthony Chiang: If I’m using the eye test, I’ll say it’s very, very close between Hassan Whiteside and Andre Drummond. But if I’m using NBA.com’s efficiency rating, it’s actually not that close. Whiteside ranked eighth in the NBA with an efficiency rating of 26.7 entering Tuesday night’s game against the Knicks. Meanwhile, Drummond ranked 24th with an efficiency rating of 21.4.

What’s the difference? Well, Whiteside is averaging 17.8 points on 56.2 percent shooting and Drummond is averaging 14.1 points on 51.8 percent shooting. Whiteside is also a better player defensively, according to the numbers. Players are shooting 42 percent (five percent less than their usual field goal percentage) when defended by Whiteside this season. For Drummond, players are shooting 53.4 percent (5.7 percent better than their usual field goal percentage) against him.

If you want to look at team numbers, the Heat are holding opponents to an NBA-best 53.9 percent shooting within six feet of the basket. Whiteside is a big reason for that, as he’s holding opponents to 44.2 percent shooting within six feet of the basket.

Other than Drummond, Whiteside’s biggest competition for this title is Washington’s Marcin Gortat and Atlanta’s Dwight Howard. But it’s pretty safe to say at this point that Whiteside is the best center in the Eastern Conference.

@wdheatfan: How injured is Justise Winslow? 12 games is a lot, right?

Anthony Chiang: 12 games is a lot. And it’s about to become 15 games, as we learned Tuesday that Justise Winslow won’t travel on this week’s three-game trip. But the Heat insist it’s just a sore left wrist and Winslow is making progress. But this isn’t a minor injury. Anything that keeps a player out for 15 or more games, is far from minor.

@TropicalBlanket: Do you agree that James Johnson’s name is too generic for his absolutely non-generic game?

Anthony Chiang: I’ve never really thought about that, but that’s a good point. Would it be different if his name was flipped to Johnson James? That may be different enough to go with his unique game.

[Heat’s Wayne Ellington steps up game after improving conditioning]

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