What to Do with Justise Winslow

In 2015, it was widely reported that the Boston Celtics offered four first-round draft picks in their pursuit of Justise Winslow during that year’s NBA Draft. Boston’s advances were rebuffed by both the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat, the team that selected Winslow 10th overall out of Duke University.

Less than three years later, the clamor that once surrounded Winslow has died to a murmur and the Miami Heat find themselves searching for a place for a player that once drew comparisons to James Harden.

Heat head coach Erik Spolestra has always complimented Winslow, calling him “adaptable” and “a winning-plays player” as recently as last Friday. Spo commends Winslow’s “versatility,” going as far as labeling the third-year pro a “Swiss Army knife guy.” Spo has said Winslow finds “a way to make an impact on the game.”

These positive platitudes have been Spo’s go-to over the last three years whenever talking about Winslow’s statistical production. The book on Winslow seems to read that the 6’7″ swingman is a good ball-handler, and a skilled, physical defender who can slide between all five positions. Winslow’s biggest weakness? Shooting.

While Winslow is shooting 42.2 percent from the field this season, he’s registering career-highs in True Shooting percentage (49.1 percent), Effective Field Goal percentage (47.6 percent) and 3-point percentage (43.5 percent). As a rookie in 15/16, Winslow made only 27.6 percent of his threes. Winslow credits Heat assistant coaches Rob Fodor and Chris Quinn with his improvement in this facet of his game.

The eye-test shows teams are leaving Winslow open behind the three-point line despite his improvement there, and Heat fans have begun to notice Winslow’s struggles finishing around the basket. Winslow has made only 43 of 82 attempts inside five-feet this season (52.4 percent). He’s also been terrible in the midrange, hitting only 26.3 percent from 5-9 feet, 29.4 percent from 10-14 feet, and 11.1 percent from 15-19 feet.

According to Spolestra, Winslow makes “winning plays.” He’s a “utility-type contributor.” He leads the team with a 2.1 Assist-to-Turnover Ratio and is one of five Heat players to average over five rebounds-per-game (5.2). He’s averaging a career-high 11.1 rebounds-per-48-minutes, and career-highs in both Offensive Rating (101.1) and Defensive Rating (106.1).

So the question becomes, what to do with Justise Winslow?

Winslow has been part of the top-3 most used 5-man lineups by Spolestra over the last four games, when Winslow returned from a 14-game absence resulting from a strained left knee. Winslow has come off the bench during those games.

Despite the usage, Spolestra has deployed Winslow with care these days. He’s seemingly always on the floor with some combination of Wayne Ellington, Kelly Olynyk, Josh Richardson, and Goran Dragic, all shooters. He’s played less than 15 minutes over the last four games with both James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside on the floor with him.

The worry is that Winlow’s skill set seems to be a duplication of what Josh Richardson and James Johnson bring to the floor. Both Richardson and Johnson are physical players who can defend multiple positions and who both can be secondary ball-handlers. Richardson brings the added benefit of being a good shooter and Johnson brings with him a wealth of NBA experience and maturity.

During this position-less basketball era, having a player like Justise Winslow would seem to be boon for many teams. But Miami’s salary cap situation and the redundant skill set with players who just received longterm contracts makes Winslow’s future in Miami uncertain.

Richardson seems to be Miami’s small forward of the future (though his contract makes him a valuable trade asset). Johnson seems best suited as a small-ball power forward, a role in which Winslow once flourished as a rookie and for a time last season before a season-ending injury.

It’s unlikely the team will trade Winslow this season, considering his value might be at an all-time low. And it will be interesting to see how Spolestra elects to incorporate the 21-year-old swingman in the coming weeks. Spo’s deliberate use of Winslow with shooters should continue, but it’s hard to envision Winslow cracking a crunch time lineup that should probably include some combination of Dragic, Ellington, Richardson, Johnson, Whiteside, and Olynyk.

So where do you put Winslow?  For now, Winslow will continue as a utility player off the bench, either as the de facto backup point guard or as the secondary ball handler with a group of shooters. At 21-years-old, it’s hard to imagine the Heat giving up on a once-bluechip talent.

The Heat enter their Saturday night contest in Charlotte with a 26-19 record, which is good for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, 1.0 game behind the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite a 101-95 loss in Brooklyn on Friday night that saw the Heat surrender a 16-point lead, Miami continues to confound pundits. Over their last 82 games, the Heat has a 52-30 record, which would have been good for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference last season, one game behind the Boston Celtics.


Miami Heat Midseason Report

NBA: Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ersThe Miami Heat started the second half of their 2017-2018 season with an impressive 97-79 home victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat used a dominant third quarter to overcome a 43-41 halftime deficit en route their their seventh straight win.

Although both Heat head coach Erik Spolestra and point guard Goran Dragic downplayed the winning streak after the game, the team’s play over the last month and a half has set them up to be a player in the Eastern Conference postseason.

Miami’s 24-17 record through 41 games is in stark contrast to their 11-30 record a year ago. Although the Heat have absorbed a number injuries for the second straight season (they posted a league-leading 334 games lost to injury in 2016-2017), they’ve managed to not only stay afloat but to thrive, despite extended absences from Dion Waiters, Rodney McGruder, Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside.

This no-star approach has made the Heat a very difficult team to defend and game-plan for. Miami features eight players who average more than 10 points-per-game, led by Goran Dragic’s 17 PPG. The team also has five players averaging more than five rebounds-per-game. Entering Sunday, the Heat was No. 8 in the NBA in True Shooting Percentage (55.6 percent) and No. 12 in Effective Field Goal Percentage (52.5 percent). Although they’re only No. 22 in Offensive Rating (103.6), they’re No. 8 in Defensive Rating (104.2).

Miami has managed to win seven straight, and 12 of their last 15. This push has propelled them up the Eastern Conference standings, where they currently sit as the No. 4 seed, one game behind the reeling Cleveland Cavaliers. At 25-17, the Heat have a 0.5 game lead over the Washington Wizards atop the Atlantic Division.

While Goran Dragic has been Miami’s best and most consistent player this season, the recent winning streak and generally improved play since December 1st has coincided with the emergence of Josh Richardson and the development of rookie Bam Adebayo. The Heat were 10-11 before December 1st, and are 15-6 since, including wins at Boston and at Toronto.

Since December 1st, Richardson is averaging 16.8 points-per-game, 3.7 rebounds-per-game, 2.7 assists-per-game and 1.1 steals-per-game. Rookie Bam Adebayo filled the void left by Justise Winslow’s injury and has averaged 8.1 points-per-game and 6.1 rebounds-per-game in 23.3 minutes-per-game over his last 10. Adebayo has forced Spolestra’s hand regarding rotations, and it will be interesting to see how Spo distributes Winslow’s minutes, who had been primarily playing the 4-spot prior to his injury.

With the trade deadline fast approaching, it will be interesting to see if Pat Riley elects to keep this team intact or if he tries to make a major move. Riley is asset-strapped at the moment, considering the team can’t trade a 1st-round pick until 2023 and doesn’t own a second-round selection until 2022. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Miami’s only conceivable trade package might have to be built around Whiteside and Winslow.

The extraordinary stretch that began at the halfway point last season has continued into this one. With today’s victory, the Heat are now 55-28 over their last 83 games. Coach Spo continues to have them as among the best prepared teams in the league. They continue to play hard, play defense, drive-and-kick, and win, despite the shuffling nature of the lineup and rotation. They embody the next-man-up cliche more than any team I’ve ever seen, and, should the Heat win on Monday at Chicago, and should Cleveland lose versus the Warriors, Miami, incredibly, will be tied for the No. 3 seed in the East.