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Emergence of point Justise leaves Heat in predicament with Goran Dragic

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Winslow’s improved play at a position of need could force Pat Riley’s hand.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

With Goran Dragic expected to be sidelined until the All Star break after undergoing a knee procedure, Erik Spoelstra has named Justise Winslow as the Miami Heat’s point guard going forward. Winslow, also now known as “Point Justise”, is playing his best basketball of his career after the switch to his new position, leaving the Heat’s situation with Dragic in a bit of cloudiness.

In Winslow’s first official start as the team’s point guard following Spoelstra’s announcement, he led the Heat in scoring with 21 points and added four assists and two rebounds against the Toronto Raptors while also playing a key role in guarding Kawhi Leonard. Over his past nine games, Winslow is averaging 15 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game and is shooting 48% from the field and 45% from three-point range. Over that period, the Heat are 17.4 points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor. In a small yet impressive sample size, the Heat are a +52 over the past five games with Winslow playing point guard in a group with Josh Richardson, James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside, and they are an even better +62 when the fifth player is either Tyler Johnson or Rodney McGruder. Winslow’s height at 6’5” gives the Heat the unique ability to be creative in their lineup and defensive strategy when he is playing point guard and it gives him mismatches against numerous opposing point guards.

With Winslow, the Heat as a team are playing much better as well. Before Winslow began playing point guard, the Heat ranked 22nd in net rating, 9th in defensive rating and had an 11-16 record. Now after making the switch with Winslow, the Heat are 2nd in Net rating, 3rd in defensive rating and have a 5-1 record.

Winslow’s play is quite the improvement from the previous two months, and even the previous three seasons of his career. In October, Winslow scored just 8.0 points per game, shooting 33% from the field and 20% from three-point range. In November, Winslow averaged 9.4 points per game and he shot 36% from the field and 33% from the field. Throughout the first three years of Winslow’s career, he averaged just 8.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.0 steals per game, shooting 40% from the field and 28.5% from three-point range.

The step Winslow has made in December is a direct correlation to more minutes and an improvement in shooting, but also because of his switch from forward to point guard. Winslow was drafted 10th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Heat and the Boston Celtics were reported to have offered as much as four first-round picks in order to acquire Winslow. At the start of this season, the Winslow and the Heat agreed to a three-year, $39 million extension. When it was agreed to, some wondered if the Heat jumped too quickly into a deal with the 22-year-old, but now, that deal is beginning to look like a bargain if Winslow keeps up his newly-founded high level of play.

All of what was previously stated creates quite the argument favoring Winslow over Dragic. In the past, Dragic has been one of the most trusted players for the Heat on both sides of the ball. However, Dragic’s health situation combined with his impending free agency and the risk of stunting Winslow’s growth could change that.

In 2015, Dragic signed a five-year, $85 million deal with the Heat. The deal takes Dragic through 2020, but he does have a player option after this season where he can elect to test the free agent market rather than staying with the Heat at a price of $19.2 million. Considering the raise in cap and the astronomical contracts players have been receiving, Dragic could be able to find an organization that would be willing to pay him higher than what his current deal is.

Due to Dragic’s player option, the Heat would be forced to start Dragic over Winslow if they have any hopes of him staying in Miami. If Winslow’s continues at his current level of play, the decision to sit him for a player who is 10 years older than him and hadn’t played much better than Winslow so far this season may be difficult to do. Plus, Dragic could leave Miami even if he regains his starting role.

Another option for the Heat is exploring the trade market for Dragic in order to find a deal, something they reportedly scanned already over the offseason. However, the exact reason Dragic may not work in Miami could very well be the same reason he won’t work elsewhere. Unless a competing team is willing to trade draft picks and a cap-filler in order to potentially rent Dragic for just half of a season, a market for Dragic and what he could return may not be worth it. Making matters more difficult, the NBA decided to move the trade deadline to before the All Star break. This season, the trade deadline is on February 7 and the NBA All Star weekend in from February 15-17, Dragic’s projected time of return. Essentially, a team would have to trade for an injured Dragic if a deal were to be made.

In a perfect world for the Heat, Winslow and Dragic would be able to coexist, with Winslow playing similar minutes to what he already is to ensure he can continue to grow while Dragic is able to provide his leadership as well. If Winslow’s play continues to bring a positive effect to the team, the Heat will have an interesting decision in the coming months to figure out just how they want to handle both him and Dragic.