Barry Jackson

Miami Heat’s Winslow showing growth, makes case for starting power forward job

Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow (20) gets inside as Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) defends in the second half as the Miami Heat host the Boston Celtics at AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday, October 28, 2017.
Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow (20) gets inside as Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) defends in the second half as the Miami Heat host the Boston Celtics at AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday, October 28, 2017.

Any discussion of Justise Winslow, from a Heat perspective, is often accompanied by a plea for patience.

Give him time before judging if he can be an average, let alone above average, jump shooter. Give him time before determining if he’s an NBA starter on a good team.

The pleas for patience are reasonable, considering he’s 21 and coming off an injury-riddled 18-game season, and the patience is starting to be rewarded.

Starting at power forward in a 126-115 win against Phoenix on Wednesday night, Winslow had 14 points, six rebounds and five assists and shot 5 for 11 from the field and 2 for 4 on threes.

“There is no perfect answer,” coach Erik Spoelstra told Jason Jackson after the game, via Fox Sports Sun, when asked about starting Winslow at power forward. “It was something I was looking at before, but then Dion [Waiters] was out and Hassan [Whiteside] was out.... Nothing is in cement right now, but Justise gave us rock solid minutes at both ends of the court.

“Defensively, he was guarding one through four at different points in the game. Offensively, showed real nice poise with the ball in his hands but also making some plays off the ball. This is definitely something I hope we can build on with him.”

Winslow appears to be the Heat’s best starting power forward option moving forward, considering James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk do their best work off the bench.

This, too, is encouraging: Winslow’s jump shot looks better, and he’s finishing better at the rim. He’s up to 46 percent from the field, better than his 42.2 as a rookie and 35.6 last season. He’s 4 for 13 on threes this season.

He’s averaging 8.1 rebounds per 36 minutes, compared with 6.4 in his career.

He looks sleeker and more active after dropping from 230 pounds to less than 215.

“His body feels great,” Spoelstra said last week. “He’s moving better, I think. He’s quicker, he’s faster. He’s able to get to the ball faster. So much of having 12 rebounds in a game is a quickness to the ball. He has a knack for the ball now, can really get to it quickly.”

Winslow, before this ongoing Heat road trip, told me he’s better at this weight.

“My endurance is pretty good,” he said. “I feel I’m able to make more plays out there, I’m lighter, more explosive. Definitely I feel like I have the ability to make more plays. [Even with the loss of bulk], I haven’t really faced too many guys that I felt have overpowered me in the post. It’s still early. We’ll see. Cleveland, when they put LeBron James at [power forward], we’ll see how I feel. I am trying to get stronger.”

Is the weight loss one reason for the better rebound numbers?

“I’m sure,” he said. “To some degree. I am probably jumping quicker and getting off the ground, that jump off the ground is really quicker. I think it’s helping with a lot of my game. Even defensively, just lateral agility. I am definitely happy with the results so far. It’s the way the game is trending – more speed, explosiveness rather than old school two bigs type of thing.”

Winslow, averaging nearly seven points per game, has worked very hard on his shot, and there have been tangible signs of progress.

“It was more about getting a form that’s repeatable,” he said. “Using the same form every time. That was the bigger goal. Some days it was 500 shots. Other days, 250. It’s a process and you’ve got to try to stick to it. Sometimes, you don’t see results right away. Sometimes it takes days, months, years.”

He came to the arena late at night to shoot after a game early in the season, not leaving until 1 a.m. Does he turn the lights out?

“I usually keep the lights on because guys around here are always working, always coming in,” he said, cracking that he hopes owner Micky Arison is OK with the bill. “I’ve been in here leaving the gym at 2:30 [a.m.] before. You have restless nights. You have nights where you think about coming one game short of the playoffs. You just can’t sleep. More in the offseason. There definitely have been some late nights.”

Where is his best position longterm – small forward or power forward?

“With my ability as a playmaker, I feel I can also play point guard,” he said. “One through four, even five [center] at times down the stretch, you will see some wild things this year with the small ball. Golden State and Cleveland and a lot of teams, even Orlando, are trending in that direction. It’s becoming a speed game. I am not even sure what position I prefer.”

But power forward sure looks like a good fit for him. And the potential shown Wednesday can make Heat fans feel less exasperated about Miami passing on Devin Booker, who scored 30 against Miami and is averaging 22 per game.

Here’s my Wednesday post on the Heat’s draft pick scenario this season.

Here’s my Wednesday post with a six-pack of UM notes, including the people who are slighting UM on the CFP committee and why UM is being slighted.

And please read colleague Manny Navarro’s stories from Phoenix and this road trip for a lot more on tonight’s Heat win.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Related stories from Miami Herald