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Justise Winslow: The good, the bad, and the ugly

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Is Winslow’s overall game developing enough to make up for his most glaring flaws?

NBA: Orlando Magic at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

As a Miami Heat fan, I desperately wanted Justise Winslow to be a star. When we drafted him 10th out of Duke I thought it was the steal of the draft and couldn't believe he had fallen so far. In an organization notorious for eschewing the draft in favor of other means of team-building, I was excited to finally have a promising prospect to root for. Our first true "blue-chipper" since the mercurial Michael Beasley.

Needless to say, I'm disappointed. Justise Winslow has failed to develop in any significant way since he entered the league in 2015. I can hear the complaints of those still holding onto hope through the computer screen: "he can handle the ball, he gets to the hoop, and he's shooting 42% from behind the arc!"

This is the paradoxical nature of Winslow's game. The very aspects of the game he's supposed to be good at are the areas in which he struggles.

Let's first get the good out of the way before I slowly crush your hopes and dreams of Justise Winslow: star small forward. Winslow is good at defense. Not elite, but good. He sports a 2.0 defensive box plus-minus, 1.5 defensive win shares, and has 42.28 defensive points saved - good for 52nd in the league. All good numbers, but not spectacular. So, if nothing else, Justise is a solid defender.

Now, on to the bad. Winslow's struggles can be (somewhat reductively) grouped into three key flaws.

Three-point shooting

While Winslow has upped his three-point percentage to 42%, after a couple fruitful games from behind the arc following the All-Star break. Something that percentage doesn't tell you is that he's doing it on an extremely low 1.5 three-point attempts per game. Basically, he's firing up 1 or 2 threes every game. While it's nice that he's shooting a good percentage, opposing teams still aren't going to worry about guarding him out to the three-point line if he only takes one every now and then. They would much rather use their defensive energy chasing Wayne Ellington around like Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. That's because Wayne shoots a good percentage, but more importantly, it's because he's doing it while taking 7.6 three-point attempts per game. That's a floor spacer. By the way, Winslow's 1.5 three-point attempts per game is good for 255th in the league among players with at least 10 games played. With only 67 attempts under his belt this year it makes it hard to trust that he's suddenly become an above average marksman. Especially since all of Winslow's threes have been assisted and 62% of them came from the short corners.

But it's not all doom and gloom is it? Justise can still serve as a good secondary or tertiary ball handler right? ... Right?!

Well, in a couple of words, not really.

Ball handling

This might be Winslow's most insidious flaw, because just by the eye-test, Winslow does look like a good ball handler. But if you delve a little deeper into the statistical abyss, you'll find a very different picture looking back at you. Justise quite simply commits too many turnovers. Again, this is hard to notice at first glance because Winslow averages only 1.2 turnovers a game. That doesn't sound too bad, I mean James Harden is averaging a bloated 4.3.

The difference here is in the time of possession, as tracked by NBA.com. In order to commit a turnover, generally a player has to have the ball, and some players handle the ball significantly more. James Harden, for example, might average a ton of turnovers, but it's influenced by his extremely high time of possession. According to tracking stats, Justice Winslow has soaked up 83 minutes of possession. In those 83 minutes, Justise has committed 52 turnovers. Good for .63 turnovers per minute. Now out of context that doesn't mean too much, so I whipped up a little chart. This is by no means comprehensive, but it gives you some reference.

Turnovers and Time of Possession

Player Time of possesion (Min) TO TO per Min of Poss
Player Time of possesion (Min) TO TO per Min of Poss
Justise Winslow 88 53 0.60
Goran Dragic 337 123 0.36
James Harden 460 222 0.48
Russell Westbrook 525 273 0.52
Dennis Smith Jr 325 151 0.46
James Johnson 142 108 0.76

Russell Westbrook, despite leading the league in turnovers averages only .52 turnovers per minute. Dragic posts a minuscule .36 TO per minute and even rookie point man Dennis Smith Jr. clocks in at just under a half a turnover a minute. Justise Winslow outpaces all of them except for teammate James Johnson - which is not a good sign for the Heat, but this article isn't about him.

Winslow might be able to bring the ball up the court, but he has trouble holding onto it once he does.

Finishing at the rim

All the way back in Winslow's rookie season, which feels like a decade ago, Justise shot 47% on two-point attempts. The last two seasons he's shot a combined 39% on shots within the arc. I don't think I need to tell you that's an awful number. That's early Minnesota era Ricky Rubio levels of inefficiency. It feels like every game, Winslow sees at least one makeable layup that he bricks badly. They're often cleaned up by Whiteside, but if Winslow isn't willing or able to shoot in bulk from three, and he can't finish at the rim, then he's an offensive black hole.

There is a solution to this, and Erik Spoelstra has already thought of it. If he can't shoot from three and he can't shoot from two, then put the ball in his hands and have him pass to people who can. Except... he can't hold onto the ball.

It feels wrong to criticize Justise so harshly because he seems like a genuinely nice guy, and he gives high effort on the floor, but it just hasn't led to any tangible results aside from solid defensive play. With Winslow's restricted free agency looming, Pat Riley seems to be circling the idea of moving off of Winslow, hopefully packaging him with Hassan Whiteside for a more versatile player (Kemba Walker perhaps?). Because if Justise gets an offer north of $10 million yearly I wouldn't want to be the one that has to match that. Best case scenario is we get a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist type at market value...that's not a good investment.

Winslow's development with the Heat can be almost perfectly summed in one play he had against the 76ers just before the All-Star break. Late in the game with the Heat trying to erase a 76er's lead, Justise ripped the ball away from Ben Simmons and looked to push it up the court. It was a great play, a "winning play" as Spoelstra likes to say. Except that Simmons just nonchalantly reached in from behind Winslow and stole it right back for an easy layup. The good for Winslow hasn't seemed to be enough to outweigh the bad.