Miami Heat: Justise Winslow reaching a whole new level

Now in his fourth season with the Miami Heat, Justise Winslow is slowly starting to exhibit why he was so highly sought after coming out of college.

It may have taken some time, but it appears that versatile swingman Justise Winslow is beginning to repay the faith of the Miami Heat.

After Winslow was chosen 10th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, the Heat have invested significant time in developing the former Duke star. To this point, it’s fair to say it hasn’t been without a degree of frustration, ranging from injury to inconsistent play. Despite these inconsistencies, the Heat recently rewarded Winslow with a three-year, $39 million contract extension.

While an extension of this magnitude certainly had some risks attached, some highly impressive recent performances have given a strong indication that Winslow may be turning the corner.

In 22 games this season, the 6’7″ Winslow is averaging 11.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.0 steals in 28.8 minutes per game. In particular, it’s been the increasing use of him as an alternate ball-handler that has enabled him to demonstrate his full array of skills on the offensive end.

One of the most notable changes this season has been Winslow’s drives per game. With starting point guard Goran Dragic having already been sidelined for 12 games this season, Winslow has ramped up his drives from 4.6 per game last season to 8.5 per game this season, ranking third on the team. Given his size, ability to handle the ball and ever-improving ability to finish in traffic, Winslow poses as a serious threat with the ball in his hands.

This has never been more prevalent than during the first five games of December. Not only has the 22-year-old Winslow shot at a 72.7 percent clip within five feet of the rim, he has also converted at an excellent 51.9 percent clip from 3-point range, thus providing the Heat with a far more versatile and dangerous threat at the offensive end. Overall, Winslow has posted an impressive 18.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals in 34.4 minutes per game over this five-game span.

Following his most recent performance in which he posted a career-high 28 points in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, head coach Erik Spoelstra made special note of Winslow’s recent progression:

“I think the most important thing with Justise, he made the biggest change two or three weeks ago, really committing to becoming the player he’s supposed to be. First and foremost, make no mistake about this, he’s a great defensive player. Not good, but someone who can really impact that side of the floor….He’s not hunting for 30-point games, this is all within the context of who he’s supposed to be, he’s finishing well, he’s making the right reads….sometimes you forget he’s been in the league four years, but he’s only 22.”

As impressive as his output has been offensively, Winslow’s calling card has always been at the defensive end of the floor, as coach Spoelstra touched upon in his post-game press conference.

Overall, Winslow now has posted an elite 101.3 defensive rating through 21 games. Furthermore, over the past five games, the Heat have been an enormous 32.1 points per 100 possessions better off defensively with Winslow on the floor.

With Dragic now 32, and no other certified point guard on the Heat roster, there’s every chance the Heat will look for more regular contributions at the point from Winslow.

Considering the progress he’s made in recent times, and the Heat’s need for an additional playmaker, Justise Winslow is already giving a terrific preview of things to come moving forward.