MIAMI — Justise Winslow has been asked to play in a lot of different roles in his first three seasons with the Heat.
The 21-year-old has split his time between the two forward spots this year, with 47 percent of his minutes coming at small forward and the other 53 percent coming at power forward, according to Basketball Reference. But some games Winslow will focus on defending the opponent’s best player, and in others he will be used a point forward or asked to be more aggressive on the offensive end.
Winslow’s versatile skill set allows all of this to be asked of him, and it also makes it tough for him to settle into one concrete role. But after finishing Saturday’s 105-96 win over the Pistons with 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block, there’s hope around the team that something has clicked for Winslow.
“It’s definitely tough,” Heat center Kelly Olynyk said. “It’s easy for guys who basically their job is to rebound, all they got to do is go in there and focus on one thing. Justise has got a lot of things to do and that he can do. That can get you, not in trouble, but it can be tough sometimes to know where to put your focus and what to do in certain situations. But he’s kind of found a rhythm and a groove. We need him to stay in that rhythm and groove.”
Winslow is in the middle of his best stretch of the season, as he’s scored a season-high 17 points in two of his past four games. He’s averaged 12.3 points on 55.9 percent (19-of-34) shooting from the field and 54.5 percent (6-of-11) shooting from 3-point range to go with 4.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.8 steals in the first four games of the Heat’s five-game homestand, which comes to a close Monday against the Phoenix Suns.
Before this strong stretch, Winslow averaged 5.6 points on 33.7 percent shooting in his previous 18 games.
“Just getting into a better rhythm every game and playing with confidence and just hooping really,” said Winslow, who was selected by the Heat with the 10th overall pick in 2015. “Everybody wants to score man, regardless of what they say. The winning plays thing is true, definitely true. But everybody wants to score. It’s nice when you’re able to do that and other stuff too.”
While some will point to Winslow’s improved 3-point shooting as the biggest reason for his recent success, a lot of it actually has to do with his shots around the basket. He’s shooting 12-of-18 (66.7 percent) in the paint over the past four games compared to 87-of-193 (45.1 percent) for the season.
Winslow has jumped in and out of the Heat’s starting lineup, as he’s started 25 of the 49 games he’s played in this season. He returned to a bench role in Saturday’s win over Detroit after starting the previous 10 games.
“It’s been crazy. Spo gave me a heads up today,” Winslow said after Saturday’s game of returning to the bench. “He pulled me to the side and we talked about it a little bit. I mean we’ve got a lot of guys. We’re trying to get the most out of guys. … Just wherever they need me to help guys flourish and help myself flourish is what I’m here to do.”
And that’s what Winslow has done over the past week. Now, the challenge is to sustain this level of production.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Olynyk said. “That’s the player that we know he is and he can be. But his ability to play at both ends and make things really tough on the defensive end, and literally do everything offensively. He’s shooting the ball so well, he’s finishing well now. He can pass, he can dribble. He’s kind of like whatever we need, he kind of fills that void. Whether it’s rebounding, dribbling, passing, the point, the wing, the four, the five. Literally whatever we need, he’s that guy.”