Barry Jackson

Heat’s Spoelstra has big plans for Winslow after injury-shortened season

Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow holds on to the ball against Lakers' Luol Deng in the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thurs., Dec. 22, 2016.
Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow holds on to the ball against Lakers' Luol Deng in the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thurs., Dec. 22, 2016. pportal@miamiherald.com

If the Heat doesn’t land an All-Star this summer and instead keeps mostly the same team, here’s a question: How will Justise Winslow be incorporated?

This staff undoubtedly will find a way to utilize his skills, and Winslow’s defensive acumen would have helped many times this season. But it’s difficult to see him necessarily be given the starting small forward job without competition.

“I got some making up to do,” Winslow said Monday, more than three months into a six-month recovery from January shoulder surgery and not yet cleared for contact work. “I love challenges. I don't want an easy route. I don't think anyone wants an easy route. Easy routes aren't fun. Just go out there and fight for what you want.”

Winslow, speaking publicly for the first time since January, said there “were definitely times” this season where his skill set would have helped.

“I'm ready,” he said. “I've sat out long enough. Now I have 5 1/2 more months. It's been a good process for me, especially just maturing and growing as a person and as a player even though I'm not on the court.

“I'm a little bit ahead of schedule. Range of motion [in the shoulder] is pretty good. I am satisfied with the progress. Only thing I haven't done, as far as shooting the basketball, is right hand layups, right hand finishes.”

Two NBA scouts insisted over the past several months that even though he’s a terrific defender and smart player, Winslow would need to become a more efficient perimeter shooter to become a quality starter on a good team.

And Heat people strongly believed that was going to happen this season after his work last summer with shooting coach Rob Fodor.

But injuries derailed his season, and his 7 for 35 three-point shooting in 18 games wasn’t a fair gauge because a wrist injury affected him before the season-ending shoulder surgery.

“It held me back a little bit,” Winslow said when asked whether the troublesome wrist hurt his ability to incorporate Fodor’s mechanical changes. “It bothered me a little bit but you really can't make excuses because everyone is going through it.”

Winslow had 23 points, 13 rebounds and four steals in the Heat's come-from-behind win over the Lakers on Dec. 22, 2016.

Spoelstra, asked if Winslow can become a three-and-d (defense) player, said:

“Yes and he can create that game,” Spoelstra said. “People get caught up in so much of the wrong narrative. We are not trying to develop Justise Winslow to become Chris Mullin. Totally different basketball player. If you want to talk about three-and-D, one thing he can do is impact defensively and take away threes because of his ability to defend one through five and that’s unique in this league.

“He can generate threes for you offensively because he puts a lot of pressure in the paint, off the dribble, in transition. He’s an aggressive, bruising, physical type of player and he sees the floor. That helps create your three-point game.”

But Spoelstra added: “I don’t want the focus on how many threes he makes. He will make enough. He is dedicated enough to work on them. It will be about getting into world class shape, getting healthy so he can make all the plays he needs that impact and help your team win. It will be my job to put him in spots where he can be efficient and find small victories and build on those right away. Particularly if he didn’t have the wrist injury, he would have been an efficient offensive player. It might have looked differently than people would have wanted it to be.

“He will find a way to help your team. We would have found a way to put him into his strengths and build on some of the weaknesses. His weaknesses, whatever the perceived ones are, will not be our focus this summer. It will be his strengths and being in world class upper echolon shape and health will be the priority.”

Spoelstra said if Winslow had been able “to play a full season, [he] would have had a major impact on this team. I thought he had a terrific summer, along with J-Rich [Josh Richardson]. Everybody you talk to coming out of Orlando, they were two of the top players coming out of the Summer League. People were really commenting, ‘they followed up an impressive rookie year with a great summer league. Not good, but great summer league.’

“And then a full summer of development. Both were ready to make that next jump. And both got hurt, unfortunately. I haven’t forgotten the potential and what we can build on this summer. Justise brings a tremendous amount of versatility, of defense, of toughness, of winning plays, of things we emphasize. Justise fills in a lot of those intangible gaps; he knows how to impact winning. That certainly could have made an impact.”

Winslow, who turned 21 on March 26, finished his injury-curtailed second season averaging 10.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 18 games, including 15 starts.

Bothered by the wrist injury, he shot 35.6 percent from the field overall after shooting 42.2 as a rookie.

 
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