New year, new Heat offensive wrinkle … new Hassan Whiteside?

MIAMI — Hassan Whiteside didn’t score many points in Saturday’s win over the Magic, but he helped others score.

Whiteside finished with a career-high four assists and season-high 10 screen assists in Orlando. The Heat (19-17) outscored the Magic by five points in the 29 minutes he was on the court.

It didn’t matter that Whiteside finished with just nine points on 4-of-11 shooting, it’s the other things he did to help create scoring opportunities for his teammates that stood out. The Heat’s $98 million center is averaging 11.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists in three games since returning from a bone bruise on his left knee that kept him out for 13 consecutive games.

“Hassan set some really good screens, especially down the stretch,” said guard Tyler Johnson, who finished with a season-high 31 points against the Magic. “He was battling all night. He was making sure them guards weren’t turning the corner. So he’s working his way back into rhythm. We’re only seeing a piece of what he was and what he meant to us before.”

Heat center Hassan Whiteside dribbles against Timberwolves’ Taj Gibson during Miami’s win Friday in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Whiteside could mean more than ever for the Heat if he continues to incorporate passing into his game. Before Saturday, his season-high for assists in a game was one.

But during Whiteside’s 13-game absence, the Heat started running more of their offense through their big men. The result has been higher assist totals for Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo, who are both averaging more than two assists over the past 10 games.

And now Whiteside is trying to make the most of Miami’s new style.

“We changed our offense a lot since the beginning of the year,” said Whiteside, who has averaged 0.5 assists during his Heat career. “We put it in the big man’s hands a lot more, so it’s a lot easier to get assists.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra also notices a difference in Whiteside’s approach when it comes to accepting the role of facilitator.

“He’s been very studious and he’s been saying the right things,” Spoelstra said, with the Heat in the middle of a three-day break before they host the Pistons on Wednesday to start a three-game homestand. “It’s a big trigger for us whether he’s in the high post or in the low post. Those guys tend to get the trail play out of that, too, the lob or the late dish. But it’s a great action for us. He’s getting better it. And he’s a big guy, too. And he’s skilled. He doesn’t have to thread the needle, he doesn’t have to do Arvydas Sabonis type passes. He just has to get us into a coherent action that forces two on the ball and then we can play from there.

“He helped our offense the entire second half. Not only that passing, but the screening in the fourth quarter getting Goran [Dragic] open down the stretch.”

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