Truth, Justise, and the Three-Point Play
The Miami Heat have put the ball in Justise Winslow's hands and it's paid dividends, but things could go next level if his outside shot continues to improve.
Photo by Rhona Wise/EPA-EFE
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Floor General Justise is a unique phenomenon that was created when Goran Dragic went down with a knee injury about a month ago. We’re a few weeks into Miami’s by-any-means experiment and Winslow looks more comfortable by the game. Since December 22, he’s averaging 15, 5, and 5 while correctly analyzing defensive schemes, tossing picturesque alley-oops, and even finishing with his right hand!
His quickness attacking off a ball screen still catches opposing bigs off balance, and Miami’s admirable drive-and-kick identity feels like it’s mutated into something even more distinct than before. But while “put the ball in Winslow’s hands then surround him with competent shooters/playmakers/lob targets and see what happens” is a fun idea, an even more significant development to keep an eye on over the long-term is his outside shot.
Not only is Winslow more comfortable behind the three-point line than ever before, but the carefree yet focused flick of his wrist has streamlined his developing offensive repertoire. He no longer murders promising possessions by hesitating for a beat too long after someone passes him the ball, or mulls over options that evaporate as he considers them. It’s the type of leap Miami has prayed for, and may have already widened the scope of what he can ultimately become. Winslow made 38 percent of his threes last season, but his volume was low (3.9 tries per 100 possessions) and he entered this year shooting 31.4 percent for his career.
Right now his volume is up to 6.1 attempts per 100 possessions and so is his accuracy (39.4 percent). “Drastic improvement!” Heat forward Kelly Olynyk joked after I told him the difference between last year’s percentage and what he’s shooting right now. “He’ll be shooting like forty-seven percent in year ten.”
Scale and situation matter, of course, and most of his teammates (including Olynyk) are taking notice. “He’s knocking down shots left, right, and center,” Olynyk continued. “I mean, he’s making multiple threes every single game now...He’s trusting his shot and going to it early. That’s something he hasn’t really done in the past, I don’t think.”
As someone who’s inevitable responsibilities on a good team are off the ball as often as on, Winslow’s ability to spread the floor really matters. In those situations he hasn’t seen defenses universally treat him differently, but there have been subtle shifts here and there that he’s still getting used to.
“Every game is different,” Winslow told VICE Sports. “There’s some games where they just leave me open and I just shoot it. Some games they close out, I still shoot it. Some days they close out, I drive. It’s just about making the right reads, but I think defenses are definitely closing out harder this year.”
Operating pick-and-rolls, Winslow is more willing to pull up when defenders duck under the screen (inside and behind the arc) than he used to be, and even though his percentages on those shots don’t rival Steph Curry, they’re trending in the right direction. Heading into this year he never attempted more than 48 pull-up shots in a season. He’s already jacked up 91 of them this year. (Going one step further, Winslow made one pull-up three in his first three NBA seasons. Right now he’s 4-for-17.)
“Defenses are much more concerned and aware of where I am but guys still are trying to go under on me,” he said. “That’s gonna be my thing for a long time is going under the screen so, just becoming more comfortable with that as time goes on, but I don’t think that’s going to change this year.”
Winslow is still only 22 years old, he just signed an extremely team-friendly three-year, $39 million extension (there’s a team option on the third year!), and he’s evolving in various ways that makes him ideal in just about any context. The swelling confidence in his three-point shot may prove to be more important than anything else.
“We’re going to push him out of his comfort zone to help him continue to grow,” Erik Spoelstra said. “But he loves it. That’s when he feels most alive.”