According to the Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman, Justise Winslow is expected to return in the Miami Heat’s next game Sunday against the Milwaukee Bucks. Winslow has missed Miami’s past 14 games with a sprained left knee.
Also, Sunday apparently is setting up as the likely return date for Justise Winslow. Miami’s next full practice is scheduled for Saturday.— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) January 11, 2018
The thing is, can Winslow fit in?
Before his injury, Winslow started at the power forward spot. In his absence, Erik Spoelstra has started Kelly Olynyk with Hassan Whiteside. In Miami’s last two games, Spoelstra has even played Whiteside with Bam Adebayo, a duo that has suffocated opponents defensively. Adebayo has impressed Spoelstra enough to merit a full-time spot in the rotation. (Remember when Adebayo wasn’t playing consistently?)
Another development that’s happened since Winslow’s injury? Josh Richardson has taken a big, big leap. Since Dec. 1, Richardson has averaged 17 points per game on 53 percent shooting from the field, including 46 percent from downtown. On the other side of the court, the Heat’s 2015 second-round pick is holding opponents to 39 percent shooting, worse than their combined average.
Over the last month-and-a-half, Richardson has played the way many Heat fans envisioned Winslow would grow into — hounding opposing teams’ best players, relieving Goran Dragic of ball-handling duties and developing a respectable jump-shot. It turns out that the Heat may have found their small forward of the future in the 2015 Draft — it was just the guy they picked at No. 40, not No. 10.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe said that, “some within the Heat are optimistic [Richardson] can be a two-way star.” Does that make Winslow expendable? How can Winslow fit in to this gelling Heat team, winners of six straight games, just two games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers?
Now Spoelstra will play Winslow starting Sunday. Richardson has played nearly 39 minutes per game during the Heat’s winning streak. Dragic has also logged some heavy minutes lately, in part because of Dion Waiters’ injury. But on a team with Richardson and James Johnson signed to long-term contracts, how can Winslow find his niche?
Lowe said that the Heat should be active around next month’s trade deadline to address questions surrounding their ceiling. He also said that trading Winslow and Whiteside are the Heat’s best chance at a major talent upgrade. Although he’s had an underwhelming, injury-riddled NBA career, Winslow is just 21 years old and could reach his potential faster on a team that doesn’t already have a point-forward like James Johnson.
For the last two years now, Miami has played good basketball when Winslow was out. Depending on whether Pat Riley thinks that’s an accident, he may dangle Winslow in trade talks over the next few weeks.