Justise for All: Assessing the Performance of Heat Rookie Justise Winslow

Justise Winslow has all of the tools to become a future all-star, but it’s hard to tell whether or not he will live up to this potential so early in his career. Personally, I’ve been on the Winslow hype train since he stepped foot in Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke University last fall. Even though he was their third ranked recruit behind top prospects Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, there was something about Winslow that always enticed me. His superior size, power, speed, and defensive abilities all made him look like a man among boys. As I watched more and more Duke games, I could tell he had the chance to become a special talent that could eventually thrive in the NBA. After the conclusion of the college season, Winslow was deemed a top five talent in the upcoming NBA draft. Somehow, Winslow inexplicably dropped to the 10th spot, where Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra gladly scooped him up.

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Winslow’s play so far this season has been as somewhat expected. He has been incredible on defense, but a huge liability on offense. While in college, it was expected that Winslow was already prepared to defend at a very high level in the NBA. This is exactly what he’s done. His defense has been absolutely phenomenal. He has helped lead Miami to the 4th best defensive efficiency in the league, only behind San Antonio, Golden State and Boston. He currently also possesses a defensive rating of 96.0. This basically means that he allows 96.0 points per 100 possessions. The league leader last year was Kawhi Leonard who had a 96.4 defensive rating. Obviously Winslow has a much smaller sample size because he has only played in 29 games compared to the 64 games Leonard played in last season, but this shows how dominant Winslow has been on the defensive end.

Speaking of Leonard, Heat fans are hoping and praying that Winslow can turn into a version of Leonard within the next five or so years. They are extremely similar players. They are both 6’7 and while Winslow is 225 pounds, Leonard is 230 pounds. Along with being just about the same exact size, they also both came out of college strictly known as lock-down defenders with minimal offensive skills. In his rookie year, Leonard posted 7.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. Winslow has very similar stats this season, accounting for 5.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 0.8 steals per game. Even though Winslow trails Leonard in most of the major categories, the stats are unsurprisingly similar. During his 4+ seasons in the NBA, Leonard has accumulated numerous awards including the 2012 All-Rookie Team, 2014 Finals MVP, 2015 Defensive Player of the Year, and 2015 All-Defensive First Team. It’s evident that Leonard has become one of the best two-way players in the association, and Winslow has the chance to follow in his footsteps if he can improve the offensive side of his game.

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Winslow’s offense has been utterly atrocious to say the least. He is shooting 41.7% from the field, 25.0% from the three-point line, and 65.2% from the foul line. These are all way below the league averages of 44.6%, 35.0%, and 75.7% respectively. Obviously it takes some time for rookies to adjust to the speed and intensity of the NBA. But, there’s no denying that Winslow has never been much of a threat on the offensive end, considering he only averaged 12.6 points per game last year at Duke. Another stat that I find very alarming is that out of the 440 or so NBA players, he averages the 119th most minutes at 27.3 per game. Every single player ahead of him averages more points per game than he does. The next 42 players behind him in the minutes per game category also average more points than he does. Some of these players are averaging 3 less minutes per game than Winslow. This doesn’t seem too frightening until you realize that 3 less minutes per game over a 30-game span comes out to 90 minutes, or approximately 2 entire NBA games. So basically, Winslow has been on the court for roughly 90 more minutes than a majority of these players, but is somehow averaging less points per game than they are.

Winslow’s offensive inefficiencies would worry me a lot if his defense wasn’t outstanding. There’s no doubt that his game must improve immensely before he can be considered a good NBA player. The good thing for him is that his defense will always give him the opportunity to be on an NBA roster. Coaches and General Managers always look to see how much young players improve between their first and second season, so Winslow really needs to put in the effort on the offensive end this summer to show he can be a legitimate threat. I am still very much on the Winslow hype-train and I expect it to start picking up a lot of speed by next season. He has the potential to be one of the best all-around players in the game like Leonard, but that is only possible if he makes major, and I mean major, strides on offense.

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