Last season, the Heat’s offense was handicapped without a consistent three-point shooter off the bench.
Presumably to remedy that deficiency, the Heat selected Justise Winslow with the 10th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft on Thursday. Winslow, a freshman, does other things well besides shoot, of course, but his range is an immediate need. He shot 41.8 percent from three-point range for the Blue Devils, who won the national championship in April.
Landing Winslow at No.10 was unexpected for the Heat, which didn’t think they had a shot at athletic wing. Winslow spoke with Heat president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra for the first time over the phone after being drafted.
“For me to land at No.10 and going to South Beach and the Miami Heat organization and Pat Riley, I’m just so excited to go there and win a championship,” Winslow said.
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Winslow is the Heat’s highest draft pick since 2008 when the team selected Michael Beasley second overall. Unlike Beasley’s rookie season, Winslow will be joining a team that’s expected to compete for a championship. With a projected starting lineup already in place, Winslow could find himself in the perfect situation for a rookie, as a reserve receiving consistent minutes and with a green light to score.
Beasley didn’t have that luxury and neither did Dwyane Wade.
“I’m going to play with Dwyane Wade and get to play with one of the greatest,” said Winslow from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center after being drafted. “I’m going to try to learn everything I can and win games and put that organization in a winning direction.”
Further bolstering depth on the wing, the Heat selected 6-6 shooting guard Josh Richardson of Tennessee in the second round. The 40th pick of the draft averaged 16 points per game as a senior.
Winslow could play either shooting guard or small forward for the Heat, and that versatility should give the Heat some depth behind Wade and small forward Luol Deng. Of course, the learning curve for Winslow steepens dramatically if either Wade or Luol Deng leaves the Heat during free agency. Neither Wade nor Deng have indicated if they’re returning to Miami next season. The uncertainty adds intrigue to Thursday’s draft selection.
If Wade doesn’t return to Miami, Winslow could be the starting shooting guard or perhaps back up Mario Chalmers. If Deng leaves the Heat, then Spoelstra could thrust Winslow into the starting lineup at small forward. The draft is over for the Heat, but in many ways the suspense is just beginning in Miami.
Wade and Deng have until midnight on Monday to opt into their contracts for the final years of their deals. Wade has hinted that he will instead become a free agent. Deng’s camp hasn’t given any clues about his decision, but the closer the calendar moves to July, the more likely it becomes Deng will also pursue free agency.
Questions about Wade and Deng’s future in Miami made Thursday’s selection of Winslow all the more valuable for the Heat. When the draft started, few would have predicted Winslow would still be around by the 10th pick. He was projected to go much higher, but team after team passed on the 6-6, 225-pound wing. When the Charlotte Hornets drafted Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky with the ninth pick, it become apparent the Heat would have a good draft night.
Early on the draft process the Heat’s coaching staff, scouting department and managerial executives identified perimeter shooting as an area of need. Winslow’s profile matched the Heat’s shopping list, but so did other players, including Devin Booker, a 6-6 freshman shooter from Kentucky. The Heat went with Winslow because of his versatility.
The Heat shot 33.5 percent from three-point range last season, and the lack of a consistent outside shooter limited Spoelstra’s offense. The previous season, the final season with LeBron James, the Heat shot 36.4 percent from behind the arc. When James left, the Heat’s shooters left with him. James Jones moved to Cleveland with James, and Shane Battier and Ray Allen retired.
Drafting Winslow begins to fill the void of those losses while also investing in a player who can potentially develop into a star.
“Offensively, I just pride myself on a being a guy who can do it all,” Winslow said. “Knock down open jump shots from three, getting to the rack, making plays, making good assists, but really making really good basketball plays.”