Justise Winslow isn’t your average, young millionaire who happens to live a short drive from South Beach.
So, it was no surprise what Winslow did to celebrate his 20th birthday on Saturday.
“I played with my puppies,” Winslow said Sunday after practice. “That’s about it. I have two — Jefe and Noah. I was playing with Noah last night. I like my puppies. I got Noah like two weeks ago and I got Jefe on Christmas. They’re bulldogs.”
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Even though he’s still not old enough to buy alcohol, it’s no secret Winslow’s maturity is well beyond his years.
His veteran teammates have always been quick to compliment him on that. They credit Winslow for how good and disciplined a defender he is and also how hard he continues to work to improve on the offensive end — the fact he doesn’t rest on his laurels now that he’s become a key rotation player.
“He has a veteran approach to the game, and it’s pure,” coach Erik Spoelstra said before Friday’s win over the Magic. “He wants to win. He’s only about winning and getting better every single day.”
Third among all rookies in the league in minutes played (1,988), Winslow is glad he has also already moved past the dreaded rookie wall. That happened back in late December and early January when Winslow said he was having a lot of mental mistakes on both ends of the floor and was doing a poor job spacing.
“He hit it but he came out of it pretty quickly,” Dwyane Wade said. “Obviously he hasn’t had a scoring burden on him so you [wouldn’t] be able to tell that way. But it was more so he’s a very good defender and when he’s locked in you can tell. He hit it a couple games where he couldn’t get locked in and was turning it over. I said ‘Oh, you’re in your rookie wall.’ Then he snapped out of it after about five or six games.
“He’s 20 years old now, gone from playing 30-something games in college to his [70th] game in his first season. It’s been pretty impressive.”
Like Winslow, Luol Deng spent one year at Duke before making the jump to the NBA. He remembers the toll a longer NBA season with more travel had on him mentally and physically when he was a rookie.
Deng, who earned All-Rookie first team honors after averaging 11.7 points in 61 games and helping the Bulls reach the playoffs for the first time in seven years, said Winslow has been “unbelievable” as a first-year player and that the lessons Winslow has learned playing on a playoff team will help him in the long run.
“It really reminds me so much of my rookie season,” Deng said. “When you play on a team like this and are winning and going to the playoffs it’s great for any rookie. You keep working hard to the finish, you experience the playoffs and go to the summer excited.
“Sometimes when you don’t get to experience that, sometimes you think it’s going to be the same thing. But when you make the playoffs your first year, you work so hard in the summer because you want to get back there. That’s the difference being in a great organization that makes the playoffs and being a kid on a team that you miss it for the first however many years and it becomes a habit.”
As good as Winslow has been defensively, guarding the league’s best players, his offense remains a work in progress. But at least since the All-Star break, his offense and jump shooting has improved.
He has gone from averaging 5.7 points per game and shooting 41.8 percent from the field before the break to scoring 8.2 points per game and shooting 45.3 percent from the field after it. Before the break he was making jump shots at only 28.4 percent (42 of 148). He’s making jumpers at 38.6 percent (27 of 70) since the break.
Still, Winslow’s three-point shooting remains subpar (25.8% before the break and 23.5% after). That’s a part of his game, Winslow said, he will eventually get to.
“It’s coming along,” Winslow said of his improved shooting. “It’s just about knowing my spots and how to be most effective in those spots. It’s just working on that and the corner three. I’m not going to shoot many threes up top or on the wing. It’s just getting those shots, getting more consistent with them.”
Unlike fellow rookie Josh Richardson, who won’t leave the practice court until he has made at least 70 of his 100 three-point attempts, Winslow said he’s not focused on trying to do “Steph Curry drills.” Instead, he’s taking progressive steps with his shot and he’s confident it will develop over time.
“One day I’ll be at that point,” Winslow said of being a better three-point shooter. “But Josh and I are on different levels shooting [right now].”