Passing the Torch: Dwyane Wade’s Impact on Justise Winslow
It’s March 8th, and the first quarter of an oddly entertaining game between the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers is about to end.
Hassan Whiteside collects an errant ball and flips ahead to Miami’s young chameleon, Justise Winslow. Winslow takes off down the middle of the floor. One bounce. Two. Three. He accelerates after the second bounce, and begins his gather from just inside the dotted line after the third. David Nwaba tries to offer some resistance, but Winslow absorbs the bump, contorts his body, and flips the ball off the glass while falling out of bounds.
Fast forward to the end of the third quarter. This time, Dwyane Wade catches an outlet pass before taking the bump and adding two on the scoreboard.
The similarities are just as evident as the differences. Both guys lick their chops at the one-on-one coverage they see on the fast break. They both finish through contact while fading away from the hoop. But while the result is the same, the journey is different.
Winslow looks a bit out of sorts for most of the possession. He has to tip the ball to himself before he begins his trek. Two casual strides are followed by a quick pitter-pat on his gather. The shot is made, but his body pays a small price in the process.
Compare that to Wade, who catches it cleanly. He gets to the rim in two dribbles instead of three. His strides are even. There is no change in speed never. Nik Stauskas’ failed strip doesn’t deter Wade, and he’s able to land cleanly after the shot.
Those are random plays from an early March game, but it’s that juxtaposition that makes their relationship so important.
It took nearly four years for Winslow to find himself. The team and expectations changed around him. He’s dealt with injuries; he’s also battled depression. But as he’s grown more comfortable off the court, Winslow has come into his own as a player.
Winslow is the midst of a breakout season. He’s averaging career-highs in points (12.7), rebounds (5.4), assists (4.3). The three-ball has become a legitimate weapon for Winslow (38 percent on 3.8 attempts), a necessary complement to the drive-and-kick skills with which he entered the league. His archetype — a playmaking wing with three-point chops — is equal parts impressive and rare, and that’s before you add in his versatility on the other end.
The baseline for Winslow as an impact player is there. He can put pressure on the rim, and he has the passing ability to beat rotating defenses. Off the ball, he’s a reliable spot-up shooter that teams can’t ignore anymore. The next step for Winslow is refinement in the middle; on that note, who better to provide that insight than Wade?
To Winslow’s credit, he’s made a point to seek out Wade. “Justise picks my brain all the time,” Wade told Five Reasons Sports after a shoot-around in Charlotte. “He’s definitely taken some of the things I’ve done. You’ll see some things he does on the court that reminds me of myself.”
Sometimes it’s a flash (sorry), like this bucket you’ve seen Wade make a thousand times:
Winslow has also picked up more subtle pieces of Wade’s game, especially in pick-and-roll situations. The biggest thing he’s taken from Wade: taking his time.
“Pace, slowing down, not being in a hurry,” Winslow told Five Reasons Sports. “Just making the right reads and knowing what to read. You’re not so much looking at your defender, you’re looking at stuff behind and how guys are playing it. He [Wade] is one of the best pick-and-roll ball handlers of all-time. Just watching him going through his progressions, the pace at which he plays with. It’s not always slow, it’s not always fast. He uses change-of-pace extremely well to get what he wants.”
Teams don’t duck under picks as aggressively as they used to against Winslow. He’s become a confident enough shooter to set his feet and fire if teams give him space. More often than not, teams force him downhill — and that spells trouble for defenses. He’s improved enough as a finisher — he’s converting a career-high 59.0 percent of his shots at the rim — to beat one-on-one coverage. The passing has always been there.
Winslow has racked up 144 Moreyball assists — assists on shots at the rim or corner threes — this season, per PBP Stats. That’s only 12 short of Wade and Josh Richardson’s marks (156) despite appearing in five and 11 fewer games, respectively. That mark speaks to Winslow’s vision and newfound patience in the half court. Wade’s mark being that high despite his age points to his underrated wisdom.
“His ability to pass is amazing, too,” Winslow says. “He’s one of the best passers, I think, the game has ever seen. I think he’s underrated when it comes to his passing. Just all the dynamics of that. His toughness, ability to finish at the rim through contact, but his ability to make players better is something I really try to incorporate in my game.”
The last piece of the pick-and-roll puzzle for Winslow is the in-between game. It’s something Wade mastered at a young age, but a skill-set Winslow is pretty raw at. He has started taking more pull-up middies, and his form is surprisingly fluid.
That will take time. But even without it, Winslow has raised his ceiling as a player this season. His contract, a three-year $39 million deal with a team option on the last year, already looks like one of the league’s best bargains. If he does turn into a three-level scorer, he would, at the very least, cement himself as the player best equipped to take the mantle from Wade as the team’s next face. From an intangible standpoint, he may already be.
Both Wade and Udonis Haslem have alluded to Winslow having the mental makeup to embrace that responsibility. Winslow himself has acknowledged he wants to be that guy. For now, though, he’s happy absorbing as much knowledge from Wade as he can.