MIAMI — Last summer, Pat Riley said he was ready for Justise Winslow to start at small forward for the Heat.
One injury-plagued season later, Riley still feels the same. But the Heat president doesn’t believe the starting spot will just be handed to Winslow.
“It’s up to him,” Riley said Monday when asked if he still views Winslow as Miami’s starting small forward. “It’s really up to him. He was short-circuited obviously by the wrist and then the shoulder. … Justise is going to compete like crazy to start and Josh [Richardson] will, Dion [Waiters], all of them. I think the great thing about [Erik Spoelstra] is when we come into training camp, it’s open. It’s wide open. Then he’s going to figure out who’s going to be starting and who’s going to be in the rotation.”
In his first season as a starter, injuries limited Winslow. After missing 16 games due to a sprained left wrist — his shooting wrist — early in the season, he underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder on Jan. 5.
Winslow’s second NBA season was cut short after just 18 games. He struggled to be an efficient offensive player in that small sample size, averaging 10.9 points on 35.6 percent shooting from the field and 20 percent shooting from 3-point range, but he did show the potential to become an effective weapon as a point forward who can help initiate offense.
The 21-year-old Winslow expects to be fully recovered from shoulder surgery by the time training camp starts in September. Winslow, who has been putting in work at the Heat’s training facility for a few months now, said in June he already has the full range of motion back in his injured shoulder.
But like Riley said, Winslow will have to earn back his starting spot next season.
At 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, Winslow is one of the only true small forwards currently on the Heat’s roster. But coach Erik Spoelstra is a fan of using three-guard lineups, and 6-foot-6, 200-pound Josh Richardson and 6-foot-4, 205-pound Rodney McGruder could be used at small forward in this scenario.
Even 6-foot-9 James Johnson, who was most effective as a power forward last season, can be used as a small forward in big Heat lineups.
“Wherever coach Spo wants to take this positionless game,” Riley said. “It can be real small with [Winslow] playing five on down to three point guards with Justise at four. Or it can be [Winslow] at the three with Hassan [Whiteside] and Kelly [Olynyk] and two point guards.
“Wherever it goes, however he feels, the whole concept of positionless has to do with the offense. It does not have to do with the size of the player. It’s that every player basically knows all the positions. So wherever you’re at on the court, the motion in the offense, everybody knows what the motions are. Some players feel more comfortable in certain areas of the court and you want to put them there, but that’s the general concept. Run like hell, get to your spots and run 22 handoffs and three pick-and-rolls and then look for a three. I like it.”
A healthy Winslow — Riley likes that, too.