It feels like only a few months ago that Justise Winslow was a dominant, do-it-all player for Duke, helping lead them to the Title. Winslow was highly coveted in the 2015 draft, with Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge reportedly trying to trade multiple picks to snag him in the lottery. Winslow fell to Miami 10th, and hasn’t been heard from since.
He’s in year three – though year two was lost to injury – and incredibly only 21 years old. Last week, there was this ominous nugget from ESPN’s Zach Lowe:
Richardson jumped Winslow as Miami’s small forward of the future, and James Johnson leapt him as their go-to small-ball power forward — Winslow’s best role. Lineups with all three of Winslow, James Johnson, and Whiteside might be fatally short on shooting. Multiple rival executives labeled Winslow as Miami’s version of Jahlil Okafor. (That is a little much.)
The good news is the Heat surged to 26-18 recently, just a half game back of the Cavs for 4th in the East. They’re 2-1 against the Celtics, and 0-1 against the Cavaliers, but don’t really strike fear into anyone in the East. Amazingly, they have eight players averaging double figures, a promising rookie in Bam Adebayo playing 20 minutes a night … and then there’s Winslow.
He’s missed 11 games with various injuries. But he’s shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers! Oh, wait, he’s just 17-of-42, attempting a little more than one a game.
[Aside: Hindsight, obviously, but that 2015 draft at the top went from promising to … yuck, in less than three years. The #2 pick (D'Angelo Russell) has been traded. The #3 pick (Jahlil Okafor) has been traded. Picks #5 (Mario Hezonja), #7 (Emmanuel Mudiay) and #8 (Stanley Johnson) are all on the trading block right now. Meanwhile, the #13 pick, Devin Booker, looks like a major star.]
It’s still early, but I, like many others, appear to have been way off on Winslow. I hope he’s not the poster boy for an ugly shot not being fixable. (Cough, Lonzo, cough.) Almost everything else in Winslow’s game appeared to translate – the passing, defense, length, rebounding – there were times at Duke he looked like a young James Harden!
And let’s be honest – Winslow was a bit unlucky. After his rookie year, Dwyane Wade left, Winslow got hurt, and the team spent on hungry, middle tier free agents, and now Winslow’s surrounded by underdogs with large chips on their shoulders. Check out this quote from that Lowe piece:
“That became ‘The Jungle,'” James Johnson says. “Every morning before practice, you’re gonna see the same thing written on that whiteboard: ‘Mouthpiece, knee pads, rib pads.’ You wear all of that for practice. The Jungle became our obsession. If you’re from The Jungle, no top draft pick should ever get a loose ball over you. If a top pick and Rodney McGruderare going for a loose ball, I’d bet my house on Rodney.”
Despite all that … Winslow is 21. You can’t bail on him this early. Not even if you’re dreaming of packaging Hassan Whiteside with him to land a big fish and throw a wrench into Boston’s plans in the East. Does Miami try and swing for Anthony Davis? Does Pat Riley try to rent Paul George with the hopes of convincing him to stay? And worse case, they clear cap room?
Miami is pretty capped out, and the best chips they have are Winslow and Whiteside.
Never count Pat Riley out.