MIAMI – Justise Winslow’s playing time may take a big hit when Rodney McGruder and Kelly Olynyk return, but for one night – albeit against the woefully undermanned Grizzlies – the Heat forward at least looked like the player the Heat would like to see on a steady basis.
Winslow, the third-year forward, scored a season-high 17 points, on 7-of-12 shooting, and chipped in with seven rebounds in Miami’s 115-89 laugher over Memphis, a game Winslow needed for his psyche as much as the Heat.
Winslow entered averaging 3.4 points and shooting 19.2 percent in his last five games. He was shooting 25.0 percent in the February, which was last in the NBA among the 187 players who had attempted at least 50 shots.
While coach Erik Spoelstra continues to attempt to pump up his beleaguered forward, insisting he is making “winning plays,” Winslow’s numbers had suggested otherwise.
“It hasn’t been easy for him this year what we’ve asked of him,” Spoelstra said, pointing out Winslow has been everything from a starting power forward to backup point guard.
“I can appreciate that, I can understand that. His role has changed probably more than anybody on that roster. He hasn’t made any excuse for it. I wouldn’t expect him to. He just wants to be out there and contribute. I like it when he’s aggressive on the attack. His finishes were a lot better tonight and he’s really been working it. He did some nice things defensively as well.”
Winslow finally had some success taking the ball to the rim. He had made 9.1 percent (1 of 11) of his shots from less than five feet in the five games previous to Saturday.
Against the Grizzlies he was 4 of 4 on those shots.
Winslow was vague when asked about his struggles and success on Saturday.
“It just happened to happen (Saturday),” he said. “I mean we didn’t run anything differently. The ball was finding me. …
“You want to score points, you want to have 20, 30 points. But there’s time you look at the stat sheet and the average fan may not see it, but I feel like coaches and players around the league know that I can impact the game that doesn’t necessarily show on the stat sheet.”
Goran Dragic said it was important for Winslow to see his shots fall. He entered the game shooting 39.2 percent and averaging 6.2 points for the season.
“I think he was shooting the 3-ball really well last month,” Dragic said. “Maybe when he was driving, those easy ones, they didn’t fall in. But (Saturday) he was tremendous two-way player, playing defense. He handled the ball, scored a couple easy ones, made shots. When he’s playing like that it’s really easier for us.”
The one area Winslow has improved is his 3-point shooting, making them at 41.8 percent clip. He entered the season as a 25.8 percent career 3-point shooter.
But Winslow, who is averaging a career low 23.2 minutes, could see that playing time reduced. Olynyk (shoulder) figures to return as the starting power forward when he returns, a spot Winslow has held the six games Olynyk has been out; McGruder will rejoin the team Tuesday after a two-game rehab assignment in Sioux Falls and add to the small forward spot; and the addition of Dwyane Wade has lessened the need for Winslow to be a backup point guard.
“It’s been hard to find a rhythm, especially being in so many different units, different rotations, different positions, but I’m versatile and sometimes I feel like that can be to a fault, because you’re just kind of plugged into different spots,” Winslow said.
“But for me it’s just about going out there and doing whatever the team asks me to do, whether it’s being a power forward, being a backup point guard. And so my head was a little scrambled at times this year. But I’m just trying to lock in and focus on any way to help this team get to the playoffs.”