Basketball

Winslow’s NBA expectations: high but realistic

Miami Heat president Pat Riley, left, has a moment with Justise Winslow during the introduction of the new rookie on Monday, June 29, 2015, at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. Winslow was the team's top draft pick.
Miami Heat president Pat Riley, left, has a moment with Justise Winslow during the introduction of the new rookie on Monday, June 29, 2015, at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. Winslow was the team's top draft pick. TNS

Heat president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra flanked the team’s new draft pick and gushed about the maturity of 19-year-old Justise Winslow.

Rather immediately, it was easy to see why.

With wide shoulders and a measured demeanor, the former Duke standout certainly looks and talks the part, a young star who can help this team immediately. He did just that for his college team, leading the Blue Devils to the NCAA championship in April, and now he’s the future of professional basketball in Miami, a potential heir apparent to Dwyane Wade.

“I have high expectations, but they’re all realistic,” Winslow said.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has compared Winslow to Wade in the past, and Spoelstra was clearly ecstatic with his new player, who met with owner Micky Arison on Monday morning before a news conference with reporters.

The Heat’s coach was asked about Winslow’s versatility – he might be able to play either shooting guard or small forward – but Spoelstra preferred talking about Winslow’s inner willpower and self determination, that metaphysical thing coaches like to call the “it” factor.

“The versatility, being able to play multiple positions, being a Swiss Army Knife, it’s no secret I like players like that,” Spoelstra said. “We have plenty of time to figure that part out. It’s tougher to find the ‘it’ quality in players, and that’s why we were so excited to be able to get Justise at the 10th pick.”

Spoelstra and Riley both noted that Winslow’s poise in the NCAA tournament was an intrinsic skill. In recent days, Krzyzewski echoed those same sentiments.

Winslow, no ordinary freshman by the time the NCAA tournament began in March, averaged 12.6 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Blue Devils, and improved drastically as the season progressed. By the time Duke found its rhythm in the NCAA tournament, Winslow was showing his versatility by anchoring the paint for the Blue Devils’ offense. In addition to those duties, Winslow shot 57 percent from 3-point range during the postseason.

“Even at a young age, I think you can tell a lot about a player at times in the tournament when you’re down, and there were some tough moments … and winning players rise in those situations,” Spoelstra said. “And you can’t quantify that with an analytic or a statistic, but just when you see it, you know and you want to have those types of players on your team.”

Riley was downright spiritual about the Heat’s good fortune in landing the lauded talent, who was projected as high as fourth in the draft but fell to the Heat’s pick at 10th.

“He ended up falling to us in a very blessed way, and I mean that sincerely, so we are so excited about possibly having on our team for his entire career,” Riley said.

The good fortune of landing Winslow at No. 10 in the draft comes at the end of a year of mixed luck for the Heat, a franchise that enjoyed four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals from 2011 to 2014. The Heat lost LeBron James to Cleveland last summer and then lost Chris Bosh to a medical scare at the All-Star break. Bosh’s blood clot thankfully dissipated, but he was forced to miss the remainder of the season.

Meanwhile, the Heat stumbled upon center Hassan Whiteside, who could be a major boon for the franchise next season and beyond. In addition to locking up Whiteside last season, the Heat also traded for point guard Goran Dragic. Winslow is the latest building block for future success, which could begin as early as next season.

On Monday, Luol Deng opted into the final year of his contract. Now the only bit of business separating the Heat from being a legitimate contender is the uncertainty surrounding Wade, who will become a free agent on Wednesday. If the Heat re-signs Wade, the team could compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks for supremacy in the East. And the hope is Winslow helps keep them in that position for years to come.

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