Sometimes the best learning experiences in life come from just watching your peers do what they do best.
For Justise Winslow, that’s what his summer was all about. As a member of USA Basketball’s Select Team, the Miami Heat’s 20-year-old 2015 first-round pick spent a couple weeks out in Las Vegas in July scrimmaging against — and soaking up everything he could — from the United States’ Olympic gold-medal-winning basketball squad.
With the Heat set to open training camp Tuesday in the Bahamas, a wiser, slimmer and more explosive Winslow, armed with a “more fluid and consistent” jump shot, says he’s ready to take the next step in his career.
“I’m really excited,” Winslow said Tuesday by phone of the start of training camp. “I had a chance to be around a lot of guys that are superstars now with USA. Being able to pick their brain — guys like Kyrie [Irving], DeAndre [Jordan], Jimmy Butler, Carmelo [Anthony], who have all taken different paths [to greatness] — was probably the thing I learned the most from this summer.
“They've kind of all been talking to me about what to expect and how to handle things [in the future]. I'm just trying to understand my position, kind of my place. I want to go out there and keep making that jump until I become the superstar I feel I’m capable of becoming.”
For Winslow, who tied with LeBron James and George Hill for 15th place in the league in defensive win shares (3.7) last season as a rookie, that next big jump in development has to come on the offensive end.
Winlow shot 42.3 percent from the field last season (146th out of 201 forwards with at least 100 shot attempts) and 29.3 percent from three-point range. He also was left wide open on 25.9 percent of his shots, second highest on the Heat behind only Josh McRoberts (28.4%).
Teams didn’t fear the offensive side of Winslow’s game much at all, and he didn’t make them pay nearly enough, making only 44 of his 120 wide open shots (no defender within six feet). That 36.7 percent field goal percentage on open shots ranked fourth-worst on the team, better than only Gerald Green (36%), Beno Udrih (30.6%) and McRoberts (28.6%).
Though he won’t reveal the name of the shooting coach he has worked with intensely all summer, Winslow says his “one motion,” mechanically altered shot has him feeling much more confident than he did a year ago.
“At this point, I can feel the shots that feel great, I can feel the shots that feel pretty good and I can feel the shots that are so-so,” Winslow said. “Right now I know the feeling of the shots that feel good and it’s just about making it more consistent and doing it every time. That just goes back to what we had been working on all summer, and then what I saw with team USA, seeing Klay Thompson shoot the same way every time, seeing Kyrie pick up the ball the same way every time, his finishes, all that stuff.”
Though “it was nice to hear” team president Pat Riley designate him as a starter in July following the losses of Luol Deng, Joe Johnson and Dwyane Wade in free agency, Winslow, who averaged 6.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists as a key rotation player of the bench last season, said it would mean more to him to earn the starting job in the eyes of his teammates.
“Part of me kind of wished he didn't say it,” Winslow said of Riley. “I've been the type of guy ever since high school that I’ve wanted to earn everything. When I went to Duke nothing was promised. Coach K didn't promise me a starting position. Last year nothing was promised. I want my teammates to say this guy is going to be our starting small forward — or whatever position — because that makes me feel comfortable knowing that I earned it from my teammates.”
Physically, Winslow says he has lost 5 to 10 pounds this summer and feels more explosive with the basketball. He said he weighed in at around 222 pounds Tuesday.
“[My workouts have been] more about movement and resistance bands and just letting my body take a break because it's going to be a grueling season like always,” Winslow said. “I definitely wanted to get thinner and quicker, but still not lose too much muscle mass and still be strong, which I'm doing a good job of.”
Winslow played in 78 regular-season games last season — most on the team — and ended the Heat’s injury-ravaged playoff run playing center. He says he’s excited about the roster the front office has put together (13 to 14 players have been training together since the first week of August) and the versatility the team can play with on both sides of the court.
Last week, Winslow said he was able to catch up with Wade before he left for Chicago. Though it pained him to see Wade leave, Winslow said he’s planning on keeping in contact with the 12-time All-Star, and the rest of the friends he made this summer on Team USA.
“I wouldn't call it a good-bye,” Winslow said of Wade’s departure. “I don't want to be annoying with it, but if I have a question or there's something I want to ask I might reach out to D-Wade or Kyrie or somebody else. I won’t be afraid to ask them how to handle things, how to be more of a leader without overstepping boundaries, that sort of thing.
“I'm sure I'm going to come across many things this season as I try to expand my role that I can kind of ask people about. As a rookie you go from kind of idolizing a lot of these guys to them becoming your peers or kind of your rivals or whatever. At the end of the day, it's all a brotherhood. And it’s all about helping each other out.”