Before he blew past Davon Reed, slammed the ball in the face of Marquese Chriss and made a funny “stank face” to celebrate his rim-rattling dunk late in Monday night’s blowout of the Phoenix Suns, Justise Winslow got mocked by his teammates for missing another dunk attempt earlier in the game.
“When I went after the whistle and threw it off the backboard and missed it, they said don’t do that,” Winslow said. “... [So] I just had to prove it to them. It felt good. I mean I went by my defender and just went for it, let it all hang out. It was nasty — and a little crusty — so that’s what the celebration was about.”
Like an ice cream sundae, Winslow’s vicious, left-handed jam was the cherry on top of what turned out to be a stellar five-game homestand for the Heat’s 2015 first-round pick. With Monday’s second career double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, four steals), the 21-year-old averaged 12.2 points, six rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.2 steals while shooting 53.5 percent from the field and 7 of 12 from three-point range.
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As a player who has struggled to score (7.1 points per game) and shoot at a high percentage (40.4 percent) his entire career, Winslow said the homestand was the best he has felt offensively since he averaged 10.9 points per game before his second season in the league was cut short by shoulder surgery.
“Just finally catching a rhythm, finding my spots in the flow of the offense and staying aggressive,” said Winslow, who in the 18 games prior to this homestand (following a return from a knee injury) averaged 5.6 points on 33.7 percent shooting and was 87 of 193 (45.1 percent) inside the paint for the season.
“Everybody wants to score man, regardless of what they say,” Winslow said after scoring 13 points in a win over the Pistons on Saturday. “The winning plays thing is true, definitely true. But everybody wants to score. It’s nice when you’re able to do that and other stuff too.”
Taken with the 10th pick in the draft, many Heat fans haven’t forgiven Pat Riley for drafting Winslow instead of Pacers big man Myles Turner (12.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg in his career), who was selected a pick later, or Suns guard Devin Booker, who was chosen with the 13th pick and recently became the third-youngest player in NBA history behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant to score 4,000 career points.
Booker, who has suffered through plenty of losing in his time with the Suns (he has a career 56-145 record), told NBA TV before he scored 31 points against the Heat in Monday’s game, that Miami should have drafted him.
“Sometimes I think about it, honestly. I always will,” Booker said. “It’s something that will be in the back of my mind probably the rest of my career. Ten years from now, Miami could of, should of drafted me. That was one of the teams that I was projected in that area, that passed over me. I ended up in a great situation in Phoenix. I’m glad everything happened how it did.”
Winslow, whom coach Erik Spoelstra has always valued because “he makes winning plays,” has a career 73-73 record heading into Tuesday’s game against the Wizards. He has a career plus/minus of plus-105, which ranks fifth on the Heat dating to his rookie year (only Goran Dragic at plus-240, Wayne Ellington at plus-179, Hassan Whiteside at plus-125 and Kelly Olynyk at plus-129 are better).
Winslow is proud of how he has improved his three-point shooting this season (33 of 76, 43.4 percent) and bristles a little now when reporters act surprised when he has good shooting nights from beyond the arc like he did during the homestand.
Spoelstra has started him at small forward or power forward in 25 of his 50 games and also had him serve the role of backup point guard. At times, the shifting back and forth hasn’t been easy for Winslow.
“[This season has] been crazy. I mean, we’ve got a lot of guys,” Winslow said. “We’re trying to get the most out of guys. Just wherever they need me to help guys flourish and help myself flourish is what I’m here to do.”
Spoelstra has urged Winslow to embrace his gifts and what he provides the Heat as a “Swiss Army knife.”
“Embrace that,” Spoelstra said. “There’s a couple different ways he can look at that. He can make an excuse for [his scoring struggles] and say, ‘well, this team is using me in so many different roles I can’t find a rhythm, I can’t find a way to make an impact.’ Or you say, ‘hey, this team is using me in a lot of different roles, that’s great there’s always a spot for me on the court.’
“Play 1 through 5, defend 1 through 5, handle the ball, off the ball. All of that becomes now something that we need and depend on. So I like where his game is going. He did lot of good things to really spark that second group [Monday night]. We just want to build on that.”
Wayne Ellington (left quad bruise) missed his fourth consecutive game on Tuesday in Washington. Ellington hurt himself in Tuesday’s game against the 76ers. Spoelstra said Luke Babbitt would start for the third consecutive game. Babbitt has hit 7 of 19 threes and shot 7 of 20 overall (35.0 percent), averaging 10.5 points per game in his past two starts.