After a promising start, Heat rookie forward Justise Winslow’s first Summer League experience has skidded to a halt, due to one ailment that’s common (sprained ankle), another that seldom shows up in any box score (general soreness) and on Wednesday, an excused absence to attend the ESPY awards.
Winslow was given permission to skip Wednesday’s 6 p.m. EST game against Atlanta to join his former Duke teammates at the ESPYs in Los Angeles, where Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski was nominated in the best coach category.
That’s the third game Winslow has missed in a five-game stretch. He played only 23 combined minutes in the other two.
Even before sustaining a mild ankle injury Tuesday against Boston, Winslow missed the Heat’s final game in Orlando and first game in Las Vegas because of soreness and was on a minutes limit when he returned.
Winslow said he dealt with similar soreness at Duke but didn’t miss any of the Blue Devils’ 39 games last season.
Dan Craig, who is coaching the Heat’s summer league team, said Winslow was healthy enough to play Wednesday but he was allowed to attend the ESPYs instead because “it’s important when you accomplish something like [he did winning a title at Duke]. The whole franchise was behind him.”
Winslow, who declined to discuss the body parts affected by soreness, said he must adjust to the NBA schedule and style.
“More games, more physical, more back-to-back,” he said. “You have to figure out ways to fight through it.”
Heat guard Dwyane Wade has been trying to help prepare Winslow for the rigors of the NBA schedule.
“Everything between me and Dwyane has been helping me transition from college to the pros,” Winslow said.
“We barely talk anything Heat [related]. He’s just helping me get adjusted from everything from the lifestyle to the duration of the season, how to take care of my body, diet and nutrition.”
Through the first four games of summer league in Orlando, Winslow’s outside shot was shaky but he otherwise displayed all the qualities that appealed to the Heat: versatility, ball-handling skills, a willingness and ability to play stout defense, good instincts. He averaged 11.5 points in four games in Orlando while playing four positions.
“He has been great for us on both ends of the court,” Craig said. “Very mature, high IQ player for a young guy. Very poised, very confident…. He is pretty good [defensively]. Soaks everything up when coaches are talking to him. He’s a very skilled individual.”
But his play in Las Vegas has been uneven, albeit in very limited minutes. He has one assist, five turnovers and eight points in his two games here, on 2 for 6 shooting.
He admits even Summer League “is a lot different” than playing at Duke. “Just trying to get used to the game,” he said. “Different rules, different pace. A lot more athletic guys.”
Improving his mid- and long-range shooting will be one of the priorities this summer. Winslow is shooting 34 percent from the field in summer league (14 for 41) and 3 for 12 on threes.
He shot 48.6 percent overall and 41.8 percent on threes at Duke, but the three-point line is a shorter distance in college.
“He’s not just going to develop just a midrange [game],” Craig said. “He’s going to develop everything. We’ll have him in the gym with skill development for his entire game.”
Overall, Winslow said he believes he has “been playing good. When I’m in there, I feel I’m producing, affecting the game. Very limited minutes [in Las Vegas].”
What has pleased Winslow most is “my ability to make reads offensively and defensively,” he said. “I’m trying to see in the offense where I can be successful, so when I go back home, working more specifically in those areas.”
Against Denver on Monday, he took a rebound, dribbled the length of the court and delivered a nifty pass to an open teammate for a layup. So even though he has more summer league turnovers (12) than assists (9), it’s no surprise the Heat has entrusted him with some ball-handling responsibilities.
“Guys want the ball in my hand a good amount when I’m out there,” he said. “It’s hard to stop. When I get a defensive rebound I can push it. It’s probably one of our best offenses, when I can get the ball off the board and push it myself.”
▪ The Heat has 17 players signed, but only 13 have guaranteed contracts. The four who don’t: Hassan Whiteside (who will obviously be on the team), Tyler Johnson, James Ennis and Henry Walker. The team very much likes Josh Richardson and will retain his rights by simply tendering him an offer, which is inevitable.
Ennis (1 point, 0-for-7 shooting, 3 turnovers) continued to struggle in Miami’s 75-64 loss to Atlanta. He called his summer league performance “terrible. Worst summer league I’ve ever played. No answers right now.”
Teams can keep 20 players through training camp, but no more than 15 once the season starts.
The Heat will conclude summer league play against Sacramento at 4:30 p.m. Friday.