All of his teammates had already walked off the court and headed for the showers Tuesday afternoon and yet Justise Winslow remained.
A small group of Heat assistants and staffers stayed with him, grabbing the ball when it caromed off the rim or after it fell through the net, feeding him pass after pass as Winslow, 21, kept putting up shot after shot. About 50 feet away, coach Erik Spoelstra and shooting coach Rob Fodor watched closely.
For Winslow, a 40 percent shooter from the field and 25.8 percent shooter from three-point range in his career, it’s been a two-year journey trying to fix his shot.
Season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in January and a badly bruised left wrist on opening night interrupted Winslow’s progress. But in the time since Fodor has gotten rid of the hitch. He’s smoothed out the flow and delivery and broken Winslow’s shot down into a science for him to study every night on his iPad.
Now, it’s about making sure the dang ball goes in the basket more than it bounces out. Winslow is determined to make it happen.
“It’s a huge priority for me, but also in the big picture as far as the team and that second unit,” Winslow said Tuesday. “If I’m knocking that down then we’ve pretty much got five three-point shooters out there, five guys that can put it on the ground. That second unit could be really special.
“I don’t want it to be my fault with the spacing and all that. I’m putting in the time and that’s all I know. I’ve been seeing progress and I’ll just continue to work at it because once I know it becomes reliable and consistent it will open up other things for my teammates and myself.”
The commitment from Winslow – and the Heat – is real.
This summer, when Winslow went to Singapore on vacation and to help the NBA with a youth basketball camp, Fodor went with him to continue to work on the shot.
Winslow said except for a few days when he gave his body a rest (or instead spent time working out or rehabbing his shoulder) he wouldn’t leave the basketball court on most days until he made at least 500 shots.
Even when he couldn’t shoot with both hands after surgery because his right arm was in sling, Winslow said he would spend all day shooting just with his left hand. It helped he said in the long run.
Now, Winslow said, he plays different shooting games every day – like make five shots in a row from a spot and then move onto another – to keep challenging himself.
“I just work hard and I know that this doesn’t come easy,” said Winslow, who said there were nights this summer he left AmericanAirlines Arena at 2 a.m. after a night of shooting. “I talked to guys on the team and asked them about what kind of workouts they do or what does it take to become a great shooter, and I listened and I learned. Every detail, every little thing I can do to become a better shooter I’m trying to do.
“Nowadays with technology you can flip right-handers shots. You find different ways to watch film and watch different guy’s mechanics. Everybody has a different body type. I try to watch guys with kind of similar frames to myself and use that to my advantage.”
Winslow said one left-handed shooter who inspires him is Kent Bazemore, who went from shooting 41.7 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from three-point range his first two years in the league with the Warriors and Lakers to shooting 42.5 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from beyond the arc over his last three seasons with the Hawks.
For now, the end game for Winslow is not to become one of the elite shooters in the league overnight. It’s simply to get defenses to stop sagging off him and closing down the driving lanes for him and his teammates.
“For me, I just understand the game and understand the trend the league is going,” Winslow said. “It’s going smaller, it’s going faster, and more emphasis on the three ball. From that sense, that’s kind of what we did in the second half of [last] year. With better spacing, it allowed Goran and Dion to get into the lane and make plays for other people. That’s not possible without good spacing. We have to have floor spacers on the court.”
Spoelstra believes Winslow will eventually get to the point where defenses no longer play off him and challenge him to shoot.
“We don’t want to put anybody in a box or put a ceiling on them where they can’t improve or they can’t try to expand their game,” he said. “Ultimately what he did [in Sunday’s preseason opener] is the kind of player and really the statline [six points, eight rebounds, two assists and three blocks in 23 minutes] I want him to embrace. Do a lot of different things that help you win.
“Some games he’ll end up scoring more. But a lot of games he won’t necessarily score a ton. I want him to build on those strengths he showed the other night. He’s going to make enough [shots] that he’s going to hurt you if you’re going to try to just leave him wide open.”
Winslow, though, believes eventually, through hard work, he can become the kind of shooter no one else expects him to be.
“I feel like I have the discipline and the focus to ultimately get there,” he said. “Once that happens, I feel like the game is going to be mine. I’ll be able to pretty much do anything on the court, play multiple positons. I think by the end of my career, for sure, the three ball is going to be a weapon of mine.”