Nothing Slow About It: How Quickly Will Justise Winslow Reach His Potential in Miami?
On the night of June 25, 2015, 60 players were given the opportunity to live out their childhood dreams of playing in the National Basketball Association. Karl-Anthony Towns was guaranteed to go number one overall to Minnesota, while D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor were locked into the next two spots. After that, anyone could’ve ended up anywhere. Kristaps Porzingis ended up going to New York with the 4th pick, while Mario Hezonja went 5th to Orlando, Willie Cauley-Stein went 6th to Sacramento, Emmanuel Mudiay went 7th to Denver, and Stanley Johnson went 8th to Detroit.
When Things Got Interesting:
The Boston Celtics were extremely intrigued with Duke small forward Justise Winslow. They knew he wouldn’t fall to them at 16th overall because he was considered by some experts to be a top five talent. The Boston front office also had a gut feeling that Pat Riley would select him with the 10th overall pick, so Boston went bold and offered Charlotte (who owned the 9th selection) four first round picks and a second rounder.
Charlotte’s owner, some relatively unknown man named Michael Jordan, was infatuated with Frank Kaminsky out of the University of Wisconsin. With only a few minutes to make a decision, Jordan ultimately decided to turn down Boston’s incredibly generous offer and selected Kaminsky 9th overall.
As soon as Kaminsky was taken, Pat Riley knew he had struck gold. Taking Winslow was a no-brainer for a basketball genius like Riley.
Let’s take a look at why Riley knew he had drafted a potential future All-Star and bona fide day-one difference maker.
Offense Wins Games, Defense Wins Championships:
Winslow’s rookie season ended in the middle of May, which is uncommon for most impactful rookies. His contributions mainly came on the defensive side of the ball, which is all the Heat needed out of the 20-year old.
The 6’7”, 225-pounder has all of the physical attributes to hang and bang with the big boys. His light feet and lateral quickness allow him to stay with smaller, shiftier opponents, while his huge frame allows him to body up against, bigger, more physical opponents.
Screens don’t affect him too often because he’s smart enough to avoid them and quick enough to get around them. This quickness allows him to cover more ground, which results in a higher percentage of contested shots and less penetration.
Winslow makes a lot of great plays because of his high motor and incredible feel for the game. He clearly knows exactly when to take advantage of his opponent on the defensive end of the floor. However, he also surprisingly knows when to take advantage of his opponent on offense.
If Winslow has a smaller defender on him, he knows to man up and go body them in the post. If he can get a high quality look at the basket, then he’ll take the shot, but if a help defender is drawn over, then he will easily find the open man. If he has a larger defender on him, he knows to blow by him for the easy bucket.
Notice here how Bosh set a screen for him and was switched onto Montrezl Harrell of the Houston Rockets. Winslow quickly noticed the mismatch and blew by the slow-footed Harrell for the easy layup.
His offensive game isn’t even close to polished, but his basketball IQ provides hope for relative improvements each season.
Winslow could actually be a good shooter in the Association. Even though his 27.6 three-point percentage shows otherwise, he has solid form and shot 41.4% from beyond the arc in college. His form has improved immensely over the past two years.
Just notice how natural his release and follow through looks.
I actually watched Winslow compete for Team USA before he went to Duke last year. While watching him represent our country, I noticed how inconsistently awful his shot was. He would either push the ball, fade away, lean back, or let the ball roll off the side of his wrist.
After watching his major shooting improvement at Duke, I knew he could be a superstar in the NBA. Not many players can go from being a terrible shooter to hitting more than 40% of long balls against high level Division I competition.
The soon-to-be second year player out of Duke loved to take high quality shots last season. Out of every field goal he attempted, 56.7% were taken within 10 feet. Even though he had a low field goal percentage (.422), he knew his role as a rookie on a playoff squad. With D-Wade officially out of town, his offensive role should continue to expand as long as he keeps developing.
He’s a long way from becoming that superstar, but not many players in the league have more potential and upside than Winslow.
It’s Great to Be Physical:
Something Heat Nation has learned about Winslow in just one season is that he loves to take and initiate contact. He drives strong to the hoop, bodies opponents for rebounds and forces his man to get through him to score. Winslow knows exactly how to use his size, strength and physicality to his advantage.
Winslow’s wide shoulders allow him to absorb a plethora of contact at the rim. He utilizes his body the most while playing in transition. The athletic specimen loves to run the floor and can fill the lane or take the ball coast to coast. He’s extremely aggressive at getting to the hoop and has fantastic body control.
Watch here as he receives the outlet pass, pushes the ball ahead in transition and takes the ball strong to the hoop for the and-one.
His youth and athleticism make it so easy for Winslow to complete these types of plays, but he really needs to improve in multiple areas to further his development.
Areas of Improvement:
The obvious weakness for Winslow is his outside shooting. He was not an efficient shooter from any spot on the floor during his rookie season, but remember, Winslow is still only 20 years old. He can’t even legally drink in our country for another eight months, so he has plenty of time to raise his poor shooting percentages.
He is also not a fantastic finisher in traffic. As you know, he loves to drive to the hoop. However, when there are multiple defenders around, he struggles converting his attempts into points. If Winslow finished a large majority of his contested layup opportunities, he would’ve averaged 10-14 points per game as a rookie instead of 6.4 per game.
The last so-so area for Winslow is his ball handling and playmaking abilities. He is an average ball handler, which can be seen in full effect during his transition opportunities. Unfortunately, he is not reliable enough to create easy buckets for others. If his ball handling improves, so will his playmaking, which will then open up more room for him to score. I’m not saying he needs to become a passing maestro or even run the offense, but his ability to create for others will dictate how dominant he can become in the NBA.
As you may have noticed, all of his weaknesses are on the offensive side of the ball. He has no weakness on defense, which is why Pat Riley knew the 10th overall pick would have a great chance at becoming a true cornerstone in Miami’s future.
When I think of successful physical specimens in the NBA, I think of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Jimmy Butler. All four of these individuals came into the NBA as lock down defenders. They were all able to figure out how to take that same dominance on defense and turn it into offense. If Winslow is somehow able to become an unstoppable force on the offensive end, he could be in the same discussion as these superstars. Well…let’s not get carried away. Winslow is years away from even being mentioned in the same paragraph as these probable future Hall of Famers.
It takes a specific style to play in the NBA. You need to master the style in order to be successful, and Winslow has all of the tools to adapt it and become a special player. Now it’s up to him to put his talent and potential to good use and work towards becoming the leader that the Miami desperately needs.