Justise Winslow has a goal this offseason.
“I’m going to try this offseason to figure out what position I am,” Winslow said with a grin Friday during the Heat’s season-ending interviews.
In his four NBA seasons, Winslow has played basically every position. From point guard to the wing spots to an undersized power forward to a small-ball center as a rookie in the playoffs.
But Winslow, 23, does know one thing: “I’m most comfortable with the ball in my hands. That’s obvious.”
Winslow proved it this past season while filling in for injured starting point guard Goran Dragic, as he averaged 13.1 points on 43.3 percent shooting from the field and 36 percent shooting from three-point range, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.1 steals to go with a plus-minus of plus-51 during the 31-game span Dragic was out because of right knee surgery.
Winslow ended this past season with career-best averages of 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting a career-best 43.3 percent from the field and making a career-high 96 threes on 37.5 percent shooting from deep in 66 games. But even after shining in an on-ball role, coach Erik Spoelstra said he does not consider the 6-7, 225-pound Winslow a point guard but rather “an all-around basketball player.”
“I think that’s where he’s at his best,” Spoelstra said, pointing to Winslow’s ability to play multiple positions. “His versatility. He’s a basketball player. Justise Winslow at his best is out there impacting all facets of the game. I would prefer not to label him as a specific position. The more versatile he can be, the more places you can plug him in, the more he can maximize himself to help impact winning.”
While Winslow is still searching for clarity on his position, he believes it comes down to three spots — point guard, shooting guard or small forward. If it’s still all three like Spoelstra indicated, Winslow is fine with it but would also “like to continue to grow within that point guard role.”
“Do I know what position I am finally? No,” said Winslow, whose three-year, $39 million extension begins next season. “But I think it’s somewhere one through three, not so much four. Can I play small-ball four? Yes, late in games. But is that where I think I will be most efficient and most successful? No.”
When healthy, Dragic has been the Heat’s starting point guard for the past five seasons. Dragic, who turns 33 on May 6, has a player option in his contract for next season worth $19.2 million, which would be the final season of a five-year, $85 million deal he signed with the Heat in the summer of 2015.
Dragic said it was too early to make a decision on that player option when asked by reporters last week. If Dragic returns, as expected, it would leave Winslow vying for minutes at point guard with him.
“I don’t want the narrative to be between me and Goran fighting over that position,” Winslow said. “We’re both unselfish guys. I’ve learned so much from him. If James Harden and Chris Paul can play together, then I think me and Goran can play together.
“I’m just extremely excited for the growth over the next couple of months and heading into the season. But Goran and I have played well together for four years. I’ve been hurt, he’s been hurt a little bit. We’ve both risen to the occasion when one of us has been out.
When Dragic returned from injury this past season, he and Winslow logged 124 minutes together after the All-Star break. The Heat outscored opponents by 22 points in that time.
There will be questions to answer next season if the Heat’s roster remains intact. Can Dragic and Winslow play extended minutes together and both thrive? Will Winslow continue to be used primarily in an on-ball role?
“Justise has really flourished in this kind of offense, which is unconventional,” team president Pat Riley said, referring to a Heat offense that features multiple ball-handlers. “He has really improved. He’s improved across the board, his ball-handling, how he makes plays, his pick-and-roll plays, getting to the basket, finally finishing. All of those things are going to become more efficient as he becomes even more confident. He’s got a real good IQ for the game.”
JUWAN HOWARD LINKED TO COACHING JOBS
The Heat has granted permission to assistant coach Juwan Howard to interview for the Lakers’ head coaching job, a source confirmed to the Miami Herald.
The Lakers are looking to replace Luke Walton, who mutually parted ways with Los Angeles last week and since has been hired as head coach of the Kings.
Former Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue and 76ers assistant coach Monty Williams are believed to be front-runners for the Lakers opening.
Howard has also has been linked to the Cavaliers’ head coaching vacancy. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports, “The Cleveland Cavaliers will begin conducting interviews in their coaching search this week, including meetings with Miami assistant Juwan Howard and Dallas assistant Jamahl Mosley.”
The Cavaliers are looking for a replacement for interim coach Larry Drew.