Justise Winslow’s role with the Miami Heat is pretty much secured as the backup small forward to Luol Deng and as someone who could even see time at shooting guard or power forward.
Miami’s second-round pick, Josh Richardson, has a few more guys in front of him in the backcourt. But after finally getting significant playing time Tuesday for the first time this preseason, it’s evident the Heat could have more than a run-of-the-mill 40th overall pick.
A four-year player at Tennessee whom Miami had tabbed as the 24th-best player in the draft, Richardson finished with a team-high 18 points, three rebounds and three steals in 38 minutes against the Magic. The performance punctuated what coaches and teammates have said about his play in training camp and practice.
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“He’s a very competitive two-way player,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You just don’t see those type of guys that often, that really want to take the challenge defensively.
“He’ll guard multiple positions, stick his nose in there, fight for loose balls and really get after it. Offensively, he’s got a nice poise about him. He’ll play off the ball, and put the ball in his hands and he’ll make plays for you. Then in the open court, both those kids [Winslow included], that’s where they really excel with their speed and quickness in a numbers advantage.”
As it stands, Richardson, who averaged 11.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.6 assists while shooting 38.7 percent for the Heat in 10 Summer League games, is slated as the fourth guard off the bench behind Mario Chalmers, Gerald Green and Tyler Johnson.
Assuming the Heat doesn’t trade Chalmers and his $4.3 million contract that could result in a hefty luxury tax at the end of the season, and everyone slated for the active 13-man roster stays healthy, odds are Richardson won’t see much playing time in the regular season. There will probably be nights he’s not on the active roster, and he even could be sent down to the NBA’s Developmental League. But right now anyway, he’s not worried about any of that.
“I mean I’m a different kind of person — I’m like really laid back about everything,” Richardson said. “I’m always [of the mindset] it’s just going to go how it’s going to go. But I realize every day is an audition in the NBA. At any time you can be shipped off. So you’ve got to take every day as serious as possible.”
With a roster loaded with veterans, there probably won’t be many opportunities left this preseason like Tuesday for Miami’s rookies to have the offense flow through them. Still, Richardson and Winslow have been building good chemistry for a while now. They began working out together shortly after they were drafted and went through a weeklong training camp with assistant coach Dan Craig in July before teaming up on the Heat’s Summer League team.
“He’s great,” Winslow said of Richardson. “He’s an athletic, versatile scorer who finds different ways to score. He’s a hassle on defense when he’s really getting after it and he makes it tough for defenders. Me and him have been great, getting here after we got drafted and working out preseason, trying to get better. It’s been great to have him by my side.”
Said Richardson: “I think we’ve got good chemistry. I know he likes to get the ball down on the block, get post-ups. He knows I like kick-out threes. We both like to run the court a lot so we can play off each other there. I think over the years we can do some great things.”
The Heat certainly hopes so. After years of building through free agency and trades, Miami could have two rookies who are a big part of the future.
“They just have to keep on making you notice,” Spoelstra said. “If you do that on the defensive end in a Miami Heat uniform, we’ll notice it. It’s tough not to see the intensity and how much ground those guys cover. But they come in with great aggressiveness on the offensive end as well, particularly in the open court. And that’s how we want them to simplify their games right now.”