Winslow The Playmaker: Why Maximizing Justise’s Strengths Is Vital For His Growth

Insight5 years ago8 min readNekias Duncan

After striking out on Gordon Hayward, and apparently not chasing after Blake Griffin, the Miami Heat settled on retaining their core. They brought back Dion Waiters and James Johnson to four-year deals, then shocked the NBA world by signing Shoulder Destroyer former Celtic big Kelly Olynyk to a four-year deal to add a new dimension to their bench.

Miami certainly raised the floor of their team. If nothing else, the Heat should be a rugged, defensive-minded, deep team that’ll irritate their way to a playoff berth if they have reasonable health. However, there are questions surrounding the team’s ceiling, especially in the long-term.

Realistically, the Heat are going to need a star — or another star, depending on how you feel about Goran Dragic or Hassan Whiteside — to make the leap from “good playoff team” to “serious title contender.” If they can’t acquire one from the outside (via trade or free agency), they’ll have to develop one from the inside. Within that context, the development of Justise Winslow is more important now than ever.


Years In Review

Winslow had a promising rookie season. While his per-game numbers were pedestrian (6.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 0.9 steals), he found a way to make an impact on a playoff team — a rare feat for a rookie.

He made his mark on the defensive end, guarding the opposing team’s best wing on most nights but still managing to rank in the 81st percentile in overall defense, per Synergy. He was much less efficient on the offensive end (22nd percentile) but showed flashes of savviness as a cutter, a screener and came up with timely offensive rebounds.

His downfall, of course, was his perimeter shooting. By most metrics, he wasn’t just a bad shooter; he was an awful one.

Per Synergy, Winslow shot 27.5 percent on jumpers off the dribble, 27.6 percent on threes, and 30.5 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts — including a 31.9 percent clip on unguarded looks. Spot-ups accounted for 30.2 percent of his possessions (his highest play type), and he only ranked in the 21st percentile.

Winslow entered last season with high expectations. He worked on his jumper all summer and showed off a slightly quicker, smoother release during summer league play. He wasn’t Ray Allen by any means, but a marginal bump in efficiency could’ve taken his game to another level. That expected improvement, as well as a larger role due to the departures of Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson, led many to believe he’d take a leap.

Narrator voice: He did not.

What was supposed to be a leap year ended up being a season filled with injury and disappointment. Winslow’s per-game numbers received a boost — 10.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.4 steals — but his efficiency plummeted. He only shot 35.6 percent from the field and 20 percent from deep. Wrist and shoulder injuries played a part, but it was also obvious the jump in usage, as well as the heightened defensive focus he received bothered him.

The added offensive responsibility appeared to hurt Winslow on the defensive end, as well. He only ranked in the 32nd percentile in overall defense. He was baked in isolation (26th percentile), abused in the post (14th percentile) and struggled to contain ball-handlers in the pick-and-roll (4th percentile).

winslow defesne on lebron

Where to Go From Here?

The Heat have to find a way to give Winslow meaningful reps without overloading him. There may be a chance he develops into a high usage player down the road, but throwing him into the fire clearly didn’t work last season.

The way the Heat are set up, Winslow doesn’t have to carry a huge burden. Dragic and Waiters will handle the bulk of the scoring and playmaking load. James Johnson can also initiate the offense in spurts and will likely be in the starting lineup to help take pressure off of 7-Eleven.

Dragic, Waiters, Johnson and Whiteside will make up four-fifths of the starting lineup. It’d probably make the most sense for the Heat to start a(nother) “spacer” in that group as opposed to Winslow. They could go big with Olynyk, go small-ish with Josh Richardson, or smallest with Rodney McGruder. I’d prefer to see Richardson at the 3, especially with the way he finished out the year. He has the length, athleticism, and, in theory, the shooting ability to operate as Miami’s 3.

Moving Winslow to the bench makes sense for both parties. For the Heat, there would be more balance in the starting lineup. Having Winslow in there would give Miami more defensive versatility, but the floor spacing on the other end would get yucky. Winslow would still get a bulk of minutes, get plenty of reps (more on that shortly) and would likely end up in the closing lineup regardless. There isn’t much of a downside here.

Putting Winslow in charge of the second unit would also force him into a necessary “position” change. The Heat pride themselves on position-less basketball, but in traditional terms, and in terms of Winslow’s skill set, he may be more of an oversized point guard (or point forward) than a 3-and-D wing.

Lost in Winslow’s subpar sophomore stint was his ability to create shots for others. His 3.7 assist average tells some of the story, but the process is what stood out to me. A 20-year-old wing, with a higher usage role and a cramped floor, was making advanced reads in pick-and-roll.

Winslow only ranked in the 30th percentile as a scorer. He had a bit of Waiters in him; he could get to the rim with relative ease, but had trouble finishing.

However, Winslow thrived as a passer, ranking in the 89th percentile as a distributor by generating 1.232 points per possession on his passes. He showcased the entire repertoire: skip passes to the corner, lobs to the roller and dimes to cutters. He was a Wallian jump-passer, often driving (into traffic) before finding guys at the apex of his jump.

My favorite pass of his was a dime to James Johnson in the right corner for a 3. The shot won’t be shown (it went in), but look at how difficult this pass was and how precise it was:

Here, watch how Winslow runs a high pick-and-roll with Whiteside, freezes the defense, then finds Whiteside with a bounce pass:

There’s a lot going on there. His pause not only froze Pau, it also froze Danny Green, who originally dropped down to tag Whiteside on the roll. Once Green saw Winslow slow down, he went back to his assignment (Waiters on the right wing). The moment Green made the decision to retreat, Winslow fit a bounce pass through a small window to get Whiteside the easy bucket.

Here’s another example of Winslow’s patience opening up an easy bucket:

Charlotte is one of the NBA’s most aggressive defenses in terms of walling off the paint. Winslow knows this from their first-round series in his rookie year. Winslow initiates the pick-and-roll with Willie Reed, then gets into the teeth of the defense. He takes an extra dribble, which forces the Hornet guard to commit to tagging Reed on the roll. Again, once that decision was made, Winslow hit Tyler Johnson for the shot.

This one was a miss from Waiters, but pay attention to the pace Winslow plays at on this pick-and-roll. The stop-and-go here put the defense in a bind, and the jump pass hit Waiters right in his shooting pocket:

Winslow may be a heady cutter and can roam around the baseline for offensive rebound opportunities. To maximize him, the Heat need to let him make plays in high pick-and-roll. He’s at worst the third best passer on the team behind Dragic and Johnson, and I’d probably put him ahead of Johnson in terms of decision making.

The Heat have something here. Tyler Johnson, as much as he’s improved, is not a primary ball-handler. He’s a secondary guy that can attack closeouts and make simple reads to keep the machine going. Winslow has the court vision to hit open guys and to throw guys open.

The Heat doesn’t need to sign a veteran backup point guard; they should give those reps to Winslow and let him continue to find himself. Putting the ball in his hands would not only help him develop as an on-ball threat, it’d also minimize the effect his poor shooting has on the team’s spacing.

The defense should come back; he’s too smart of a player and too good of an athlete to not be a major plus on that end. Give him those on-ball reps on the other end, and we may see him take his game, and the Heat, to another level down the road.