Justise Winslow says his confidence is ‘definitely on the rise’
Erik Spoelstra has already given it fleeting thought, envisioning the possibilities when the Heat’s All-Star point guard returns from injury.
When that happens, likely in mid-February, Goran Dragic will be returning to a team that has uncovered something it didn’t know it had when he underwent knee surgery: A second NBA-worthy starting point guard, a player ascending to heights some never could have envisioned.
Justise Winslow’s ability to capably play the position has been the biggest revelation of this Heat season, and it will create interesting decisions when Dragic returns. Since Dragic can also play off the ball effectively, a Winslow/Dragic backcourt pairing — with Winslow continuing to shoulder a lot of the ball-handling responsibilities — could work. Or Spoelstra could decide to split them up, with one coming off the bench.
“Me and Goran have played together before,” Winslow said this week, as Miami (21-21) prepares for a Friday night game in Detroit. “It’s not going to be a problem at all. I’ve taken a lot of his game, just being around him. The way he finishes around the basket, his court vision, his speed.”
And what does Spoelstra think of the Winslow/Dragic possibilities? He’s not ready to say, cracking that he prefers to look ahead only to the next game and keep life “not complicated.”
So that’s an issue for another day. For perspective on how Winslow has played in his 12-game sample size since Spoelstra named him the starting point guard, consider:
▪ His 15.9 scoring average during those 12 games at point guard would rank 19th if compared with the season averages for the other 61 NBA point guards. Dragic was averaging 15.3 points in 14 games this season.
▪ His 5.7 assists per game duing those 12 games at point guard would rank 14th if compared to season averages for all NBA point guards, tied with Eric Bledsoe and Kemba Walker.
▪ His 5.6 rebounds per game during those 12 games at point guard would rank fourth for the season among players listed by ESPN as a point guard, behind only Russell Westbrook, Ben Simmons and James Harden.
▪ His shooting percentage during those 12 games (49 percent) would rank fourth compared to season averages of all point guards, behind only Simmons, Malcolm Brogdon and Steph Curry. His three-point percentage over those 12 games (40.8) would rank seventh, ahead of Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and many others.
▪ Most encouraging is the assist-to-turnover ratio (3-to-1), on 68 assists and 23 turnovers during those dozen games. That would rank 14th among NBA point guards — ahead of Chris Paul, Irvin and Dragic (1.4 to 1) — if extrapolated over a full season.
Miami is 7-5 in those games with Winslow starting at point guard.
“It’s something I was consciously preparing for, this moment, and it was presented to me and I took full advantage of it,” Winslow said.
And he has approached the job with a diligence that everyone respects.
“He’s really mature; to be only 22, it’s hard to believe he’s only a year older than Bam [Adebayo],” Hassan Whiteside said. “He’s shooting the ball tremendously. His decision-making is really great. He’s a big guard [at 6-7]. He’s really aggressive getting to the basket. He does a great job of controlling the tempo.”
Behind the scenes, Winslow has been studying NBA ball-handlers on tape, eager to pick up nuances that can be incorporated into his game.
“Just different guys that handle the ball a lot, not necessarily all point guards,” he said. “LeBron James, Ben Simmons, being a bigger ball-handler, James Harden, even Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler at times.
“I use that to understand different things at the point guard position, like their passing angle. Those guys are bigger players so they pass differently than a Chris Paul or a Kemba Walker. It’s understanding what I can take from each one of those guys to help better my game. I definitely have been watching more film.”
That involves watching video of those players or catching their games on NBA League Pass “and rewinding” to study specific moves. “LeBron is a great one for me to see how he uses his body, not just to get to the basket but passing opportunities as well,” Winslow said.
Several opposing players have approached him after games to offer praise.
“A lot of guys have been positive towards me in recent weeks,” he said. “Kawhi said, ‘Good job, continue to stay with it, continue to affect the game more on both sides of the floor.’”
Has the past month convinced Winslow that point guard is his best position long-term?
“A little bit,” he said. “I’m definitely more perimeter oriented: 1 through 3 [both guard positions and small forward] than the 4 [power forward]. I’ve been feeling extremely comfortable in this role. It’s nice to feel comfortable in this league. I like where I am and I like playing point guard.”