Justise Winslow has taken a step forward in his fourth NBA season.
Taking over as the Heat’s starting point guard for the injured Goran Dragic, Winslow has taken a step forward on and off the court.
Along with averaging career highs in points (12.1), rebounds (5.4) and assists (4.2) entering Sunday’s game against the Warriors, the 22-year-old has found his voice in the locker room. It’s one of the reasons Udonis Haslem pointed to Winslow as the player he believes can step up and become the Heat’s next leader.
“If I can pick somebody, I would love for it to be Justise,” Haslem said in January.
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“The kind of playing with that edge where it’s like any moment you can get thrown out, but you’re not going to get thrown out,” Haslem said, adding that he sees some of himself in Winslow. “But you play with that edge. That controlled rage, kind of compete and competition thing. I can see that in him. Obviously, to me I feel like that’s a skill and that’s a talent because a lot of people don’t play with that. A lot of people don’t play with that edge. I feel like I just relate to that.
“To me, I was him and who I am now. It’s a process, but I see him being able to be that guy just because the guy who leads has to be the guy that plays like that. You can’t lead if you don’t put it on the floor, and he puts it on the floor every night so guys will listen to what he says.”
When Winslow learned about Haslem’s comments, he called it an “amazing compliment.”
“Just that passion and that on-edge kind of mentality on the court,” Winslow said when asked why Haslem can relate to him. “I’ve had to learn how to play with it and how to channel it in a good way because I have to play with it. I have to play with that kind of ‘[expletive] everybody else’ mentality. With that, there’s going to come times where I might be tiptoeing that line of, ‘Is it too much passion? Is it too much fierceness or competitiveness? Is it boiling over or not?’ But I have to play with it.”
Team leader is one of the many voids Dwyane Wade and Haslem will leave behind when they retire. Wade is set on retiring at the end of the season and Haslem is leaning in that direction despite making it clear he’s not 100 percent sure on his future yet.
It’s a role the Heat hasn’t had to fill in a long time, with Haslem spending each of his 16 NBA seasons with the organization. Haslem has served as a captain or co-captain every year since the 2007-08 season.
“I think that’s going to be who he is,” Wade said when asked about Winslow’s potential future as the Heat’s next leader. “I just think when you’re 22 years old, you’re just a little afraid to put yourself out there and get on a guy or this and that, or say something to a guy because you’re so young.”
But Haslem has noticed a more assertive Winslow this season.
“I see it,” Haslem said. “I see him stepping him. I see him getting better. I see him being more vocal. I see him putting guys in their spots. I see him holding guys accountable. I see the progression stages with him in that.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called the comments from Haslem and Wade an “incredible compliment” and an “incredible responsibility.”
“He doesn’t take that lightly,” Spoelstra said of Winslow. “Dwyane and UD — the faces of the franchise — saying, ‘You’re one of the guys that are going to be the future of this. Everything that we built, we want you to be a steward of this next generation.’ He’s taking that the appropriate way, and how cool is that? You can’t get a better compliment as a player in this league, but also in particular with this franchise. The mainstays of those two guys, figuratively, giving you the key.”
Winslow, who signed a three-year, $39 million extension with the Heat in October, welcomes this responsibility.
Since the start of his NBA career, Winslow has spoken about his desire to be the leader of an NBA team. With the careers of Haslem and Wade winding down, it looks like his time is coming.
“It’s lot of responsibility and it’s not for everybody. I think that’s what my potential can be,” Winslow said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to be the highest point total every night. It doesn’t mean I’m the go-to guy every night. But it means when our team is huddled up or we’re in the locker room or something is not going right on the practice court that I’m the voice, the guy that’s stepping up. Every locker room needs that.”