Justise Winslow: “I’m invested in this team, in this city”
A six-pack of Heat notes, leading up to Heat-Lakers on Monday night:
▪ In the days before one of his signature moments with the Heat — a 21-point, nine-assist game against the Clippers — Justise Winslow admitted something in a private moment:
He would love to be a starting NBA point guard.
“I know I’m a different player when the ball is in my hands, being able to be that dynamic playmaker,” he said.
With Goran Dragic and Josh Richardson sidelined, Winslow got his chance Saturday in Los Angeles, and the results were very good: Besides the 21 points and nine assists, he had six rebounds and two blocks as Miami outscored the Clippers by 28 in his 39 minutes.
Coach Erik Spoelstra doesn’t like to pigeonhole players or put them in a box, to use one of his pet phrases, but Winslow wouldn’t mind if Spoelstra did that with him.
Asked if he would like to be a starting point guard on an NBA team some day, he responds quickly and decisively: “I would. I have the IQ and intellect to develop into that and the leadership ability.”
Now let’s be clear: Winslow is happy to continue to be used how ever Spoelstra wants to use him — at power forward, in a ball-handling role or as small forward or shooting guard.
But Winslow is intrigued when he thinks about what he could do playing mostly point guard, where his 6-6 frame could be an impediment defensively against smaller point guards who aren’t able to consistently drive by him.
Where is his NBA future?
“I’m not sure,” he told me. ““But I do see myself — as I continue to develop and continue to get older and get better — as a primary ball-handler for an NBA team.”
Have he and Spoelstra discussed him playing a lot of point guard?
“We’ve talked about it, having me as the primary ball-handler on the second unit. It makes me more aggressive and be the dynamic player I am.”
The difference Saturday was he was the primary ball-handler with the first unit.
“You want more responsibility,” he said. “You want trust from your coaching staff to put the ball in your hand and know you will make the right play.”
One thing is clear: Winslow needs to improve his assist-to-turnover ratio. This season, he has 76 assists, 44 turnovers. But Saturday was a great step, with just one turnover.
What’s encouraging is how his offensive game continues to develop. He’s averaging 10.4 points per game — up from 7.8 last season — and is shooting 36 percent on threes.
More consistency is needed, but what we have seen the past three games (combined 55 points, 17 assists) is very encouraging.
▪ Winslow said “I really like playing with” Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo.
“We’re pretty young... getting up and down with Bam is a lot of fun, and defensively he makes the game a lot earlier for a lot for us,” Winslow said. “Offensively, the way Bam can roll and get lobs that way and space the floor and make plays off the dribble is a lot of fun playing with him.”
When Olynyk and Adebayo play together, Miami has outscored teams by 79 points in 211 minutes.
The only two-man lineup better on Miami? Winslow and Adebayo, who are a plus-84 in 293 minutes.
▪ The way Adebayo has played to start this road trip, it’s clear he warrants more minutes when Hassan Whiteside returns after the birth of his child. (The Heat lists Whiteside as out against the Lakers.)
But any hope of the Heat playing meaningful minutes with Whiteside and Adebayo together hasn’t materialized.
That duo has played just 12 minutes together all season, and Miami has been outscored by five in those minutes while shooting 41 percent.
Last season, they played just 52 minutes together and Miami was outscored by 21.
The concern internally is how that pairing can function offensively together.
“Defensively, it’s through the roof with [Whiteside and Adebayo] on the floor,” Olynyk said. “They can both set crushing screens, put pressure on the rim offensively. There has to be a lot of movement offensively [for that pairing to work] because for neither is [it] a natural thing to stretch the floor. We have to work in practice more on that to get used to the ebbs and flows” of that lineup.
It’s difficult to see any of the three centers getting as many minutes as everyone would like unless the Whiteside/Adebayo pairing can work.
▪ The bad news: In the Heat’s past 107 games since the start of last season, they have lost an astounding 21 games to teams that finished at least 10 games below .500 last season.... The good news: They’re 6-2 against the Western Conference this season, impressive considering the strength of the West.
Miami (11-14) enters Monday night one-half game behind Orlando for the eighth seed and 1.5 games behind Charlotte for the seventh seed.
▪ One person who identified Heat interest in Jimmy Butler very early in the process — before it was widely discussed — spoke of Heat intrigue with Washington point guard John Wall, who reportedly is available.
But the Wizards would likely need to take at least one bad contract from the Heat, and that could be problematic. So it’s unclear if this could end up being a realistic scenario.
Wall is due $38 million next season,and then $41 million, $44 million and $47 million the following three years.
▪ For all the often unfair criticism South Florida sports fans take, this is impressive: The Heat has an ongoing sellout streak that’s now seventh-longest in NBA history (392, dating to April 2010). The NBA record: 814 by Portland (1977-1995).