Barry Jackson

Here was the breakthrough that launched the best stretch of Justise Winslow’s career

Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow dunks against Chicago in a game last week. Winslow has played very well since the All-Star break.
Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow dunks against Chicago in a game last week. Winslow has played very well since the All-Star break. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The player often credited by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra for making “winning plays” is doing something else now, too:

He’s consistently filling the boxscore and sinking three-point shots at a rate that ranks in the top quarter of NBA forwards since the All-Star break.

Justise Winslow entered Tuesday’s game with the most pronounced offensive jump of any Heat player since mid-February.

Because of injuries and undisclosed off-court challenges, Winslow called this “the toughest year of my life” but said he has felt rejuvenated since the All-Star break when he visited with family and friends.

“They helped put it all in perspective of what I’m doing, living my dream, doing what I always wanted to do,” he said. “Over All-Star break in New Orleans, I went and visited a school, talked to the kids, took some kids out to the movies. Those things helped put it in perspective.”

The takeaway, he said, is: “Don’t get upset. Don’t get down. You’re doing what you love to do. Go out there and make the most of it.”

Winslow added: “You are only young one time. I am doing exactly what I want to do. It’s not many people who can say they’re doing exactly what they want to do.”

Since the All-Star break, Winslow’s 41.8 percent shooting on threes (23 for 55) is 15th among all small forwards who have made at least 20 threes and tied for fifth-best among power forwards.

That’s a dramatic improvement from his first two seasons, when he shot 25.8 percent on threes. His season three-point average now stands at 40.7.

He’s shooting 46.5 percent overall since the All-Star break — compared with 39.7 percent before.

He’s finishing in the basket area more efficiently, making 56 percent of layups for the season compared with 47 percent last year.

The improved shooting from long and close range is a byproduct of taking thousands of shots and tinkering with his technique with the help of Heat coaches.

“I see him every day after practice, putting a lot of work,” guard Goran Dragic said. “He understands if he wants to be successful, he needed to improve those things and he did it. He’s got a great mind-set. Really smart player. Now shooting the ball so great, the game is so much easier for him and for us too. He’s doing a tremendous job this year.”

The second-half renaissance has been rewarding because “this has been toughest year of my life with injury, coming back with a completely new role. Going through the struggles of not making layups, not being able to be consistent and now finally finding a rhythm. It’s been a tough year, with things off the court.”

Winslow declined to discuss the “off-the-court” things that have weighed on him.

For three years, Winslow has listened to fan complaints about why Miami didn’t instead select Devin Booker 10th in the 2015 Draft. Booker went 13th to Phoenix and has a career scoring average of 19.8, compared with Winslow’s 7.4.

Did that bother Winslow?

“If I was given the opportunity to go out and shoot the ball 20 times a night, my rookie year especially, that confidence would be through the roof now, like his,” he said.

“Coming into a team with five, six All-Stars, two or three Hall-of-Famers [Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh] is a little different. You need more time to grow and build that confidence. That doesn’t bother me. Kobe Bryant was picked 10th.

“[Booker] is a great player. I don’t want this to take away from what he’s done. It’s different situations. These guys know I’m a competitor and here to stay in the league.”

Though his raw numbers have been more impressive — seven to nine rebounds in his previous three games, double figures in scoring five of the past seven — the Heat believes judging Winslow merely on the boxscore does him a disservice because of his intangibles, his ball-handling and the “winning plays” that Spoelstra cites.

Beyond steals and blocks, the boxscore doesn’t fully measure his defense, which has ranged from solid to excellent. He’s holding opponents to 43.3 percent shooting, compared with the 45.7 those players shoot overall.

“At this point, I understand I have my own unique path,” Winslow said. “I’m not going to come up here and be Dwyane Wade or be other guys on teams who were given a lot more responsibility and a lot more rope earlier in their careers. Obviously, I have seen tremendous growth in my game.”

NOTABLE

Former Jets quarterback Joe Namath and WFOR-TV’s Jim Berry will be among the honorees at Heat television announcers Eric Reid and Tony Fiorentino’s annual Call of the Game dinner at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. 

The annual event benefits Lauren’s Kids, which works to prevent child sexual abuse and assists survivors to heal, as well as the Dade Schools Athletic Foundation, an organization that supports athletic programs in Miami-Dade public schools. For information, see www.reidandfiorentinoevents.com. Tickets are $275 per person or also available for full tables. 

Fiorentino is completing his final season as the Heat’s television announcer.

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