Miami Heat

Heat’s Justise Winslow’s play improved when he learned how to do this

Erik Spoelstra speaks about Justise Winslow’s growth

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra speaks about Justise Winslow’s growth.
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Heat coach Erik Spoelstra speaks about Justise Winslow’s growth.

When it was time for Justise Winslow to decide whether he wanted to sign a contract extension with the Heat before this year’s Oct. 15 deadline, he didn’t need much time to think about it.

“I was fine with whatever decision he made,” Winslow’s mother, Robin Davis, said. “But he goes, ‘Mom, I want to be here.’ I’m like, OK, let’s do it then. He didn’t want to go anywhere else, he wanted to be right here.

“It was just something that was understood that this is the place he wanted to be, this is the place he wanted to be his second home.”

Miami is the place where Winslow wants to continue growing, so he signed a three-year, $39 million extension that begins at the start of the 2019-20 season. And the versatile, 22-year-old forward has shown signs of growth recently.

“I just think for me, just the family atmosphere in Miami,” Winslow said when asked what convinced him to commit to the organization for another three seasons. “Obviously, it’s a great place as far as the weather and kind of the atmosphere in Miami. It’s vibrant, it’s fun. I also thought that aspect of the city fit my personality. But this is my family.

“Whether it’s the vets I had my rookie year that took me in, or my second year being injured and watching the team rally around each other and find a way to get to .500, I just knew that this was the place.”

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Even after a subpar outing (nine points on 4-of-12 shooting) in Wednesday’s loss to the Jazz, Winslow is still averaging 19.5 points on 51.8 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent shooting from three-point range, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in the first four games of the Heat’s season-long, six-game trip that continues Friday against the Grizzlies.

Miami has outscored opponents by 23 points in the 137 minutes that Winslow has been on the court during the trip.

Yes, it’s a small sample size. But this represents a big jump for a player who is averaging 7.9 points on 40.9 percent shooting during his NBA career.

What has clicked for Winslow recently?

“I think my first three years in the league, I was so caught up in trying to become this max-player guy that I was skipping steps along my maturation process,” said Winslow, who is averaging 11.1 points and is shooting 39 percent on three-pointers this season. “But when I just kind of took a look back and I thought to myself, I’m going to make plenty of money. It’s about that and guys want to get paid, but it’s also about the people you’re around and the atmosphere and the energy.”

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The expectations that come with being a top-10 pick out of Duke weighed Winslow down. He has been open in the past about the tough times that he has had to overcome during his career, but this week he said the lowest point came last year when he was still struggling to score in his third NBA season.

Winslow finished 24 games last season with five or fewer points.

“Just my offensive struggles,” he said when asked what has been toughest for him to deal with in his NBA career. “I knew I had this type of player in me, and I was just almost trying too hard and focusing on the wrong things to try and bring it out. But some of those scoreless nights, two-points-per-game nights. Obviously, the injury [in my second season] was super tough.”

The pressure Winslow has put on himself to become an improved scorer has worked against him. So, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra recently convinced Winslow to shift his focus to the other end of the court, and it has worked.

“I think the most important thing with Justise is he made the biggest change two or three weeks ago really committing to becoming the player he’s supposed to be,” Spoelstra said. “That’s first and foremost, make no mistake about this, a great defensive player. Not good, but somebody who can really impact that side of the floor.

“He’s not hunting for 30-point games, it’s all in the context of who he’s supposed to be. He’s finishing well. He’s making the right reads. He’s not making mistakes. These are all positive plays and sometimes you forget that he’s been in the league four years. But he’s only 22.”

Only 22, but he has been through a lot.

From an encouraging rookie season, to his second season that was cut short at 18 games because of a shoulder injury, to his third season that didn’t quite live up to outside expectations.

Winslow has now arrived at a place of acceptance, of the player he is and the player he can be. And the Heat has found a role that works for him, as a point forward who plays best with the ball in his hands and when he’s initiating the offense.

“I think a big thing was just looking at myself in the mirror and just understanding, all right, this is where I am now,” Winslow said. “Truthfully and honestly, this is the player I am now. I’m not where I thought I would want to be. But I just put my head down and kept working.

“I think a big thing for me was just, really after three years, I got an idea of what I was good at and what I wanted to be good at. I looked at other players and how they developed — guys like Jimmy [Butler], guys like Kawhi [Leonard], and then you have other guys like Devin Booker, how he just kind of blossomed overnight. Just looking at other guys, seeing the paths they took, kind of helped me figure out mine.”

Winslow said of his recent success: “I’m just trying to keep it going. One game at a time, obviously, but I just want to keep building ... and keep laying those foundation blocks. I want to keep trying to become the player I know I’m capable of becoming.”

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.

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