As I write this, we’re under three weeks away from the start of the new NBA season! As excited as every hoops junkie is in anticipation of the upcoming season, there are 60-plus first-year players eager and anxious to clock their first NBA tick.
And we’re going to profile them!
We’re not going to get to every rookie, but we will take a look at the top 10 picks from last June’s NBA draft. We’ll examine why their team selected them, how they fit in with said team, and what our realistic expectations should be.
We begin in Miami, with former Duke forward Justise Winslow.
Why He Was Drafted?
In just one year of college play, Winslow proved to be one of the best wing players in the nation. Combining intensity with great instincts on the defensive end, he led the national champion Blue Devils in defensive rating and defensive win shares, while showcasing an ability to knock down threes (42-percent) and turn his defense into offense as a one-man fast break.
(Editor’s note: For formatting purposes, the highlight collection below occupies space above and below the pictures, so that’s why you see blank white space.)
Undeniably one of the most well-rounded players in the country, Winslow’s impact was felt the most when Duke struggled through January. This period coincided with shoulder and rib injuries for Winslow. After averaging fewer than 10 points on 40-percent shooting (31 percent from three) in January, Winslow went on to average 14.7 points on 55-percent shooting (54 percent from three) for the remainder of the season. The statuesque 6-foot-6 wing put the cherry on top of his impressive freshman season by going nuts in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, averaging 14.3 points and 9.3 rebounds, while shooting 51 percent from the field and 57 percent from downtown.
Again, Winslow was a major NBA prospect coming out of high school because of his athleticism, defensive ability, and pro-ready body. Being able to consistently knock down threes, get to the rim, AND be an X-factor on a team as loaded as Duke only solidified his lottery status.
How Does he Fit in with the Heat?
There’s simply just no replacing LeBron James. Period. As excited as Heat fans were in July of 2014 over how well James Ennis played in the Summer League, this year they have a legitimate “new guy” to be excited about.
While the team has also been able to trade for and re-sign one of the best combo guards in the league in Goran Dragic to pair with aging star Dwyane Wade, as well as land a potential franchise center in Hassan Whiteside, Winslow should be the guy to help keep the franchise relevant after Wade hangs up his ugly Li Ning sneakers. By the same token, he should be able to immediately help in the process of making the Heat one of the Eastern Conference’s better teams.
To be clear, I don’t think Winslow alone makes this team better than it was last season. Getting back a healthy Chris Bosh and being able to place him with Wade, Dragic, and Whiteside is the main reason the Heat will be good again. However, as he showed at Duke, Winslow can absolutely thrive as a glue guy, especially for a team which needed defensive help on the perimeter, and really didn’t have much depth on the wing after Wade and Luol Deng. While I’m not really expecting the rookie to be a big-time scorer for this team, he’s proved he can score in big moments, and isn’t afraid to go to the basket.
With so many players being grouped together for the first time, I think there’s a lot left to be determined in terms of who plays where, with who, and when. With that said, I could absolutely see Winslow being a key player for the team’s second unit (which is vastly improved with the additions of Gerald Green, Amar’e Stoudemire, and the return of Josh McRoberts), or being slotted into the starting lineup to give the team more shooting and allow Wade to guard the opposition’s less dangerous wing player.
Either way, Winslow has the potential to be a top-flight wing in this league, and on a team with so many talented veterans, he should be able to flash some of that upside relatively quickly.
What Should We Expect Out of Him?
Winslow CAN be very good out of the gate, but that doesn’t mean we should expect it. I can’t really see coach Erik Spoelstra putting Winslow in the starting lineup ahead of Deng, but with Whiteside not being a player you can count on for huge minutes, and Bosh’s defensive versatility being quite valuable, I wouldn’t be surprised to see lineups featuring Dragic, Wade, Winslow, Deng and Bosh.
Again, there’s no replacing LeBron, but some of Miami’s most successful lineups during the Heatles days featured Bosh at center. Winslow is a perfect small-ball small forward (not to mention that Deng is a decent small-ball power forward), as he was incredible playing power forward in Duke’s smaller lineups.
I’ve mainly discussed Winslow’s potential as a small forward, but I think another realistic expectation for this Heat team is that it’ll be without Wade for a portion of its games. Whether the Heat push Dragic to the two-guard and start Mario Chalmers, or decide to start Winslow, this will unquestionably open up opportunities for the rook — not just minutes, but a real opportunity to help carry the scoring load more than an active Wade might be able to achieve at times.
Either way, I’m expecting Winslow to play 25 to 30 minutes per game, and although I think it’ll take him time to adjust to guarding the most athletic people on the planet (NBA wings), he should be the team’s best perimeter defender and someone Spoelstra can call on to guard an opposing team’s best scorer.
In terms of a statline — which I don’t want to dip into at great length, but how do you calculate a reasonable expectation without offering something tangible? — I’d expect Winslow to come off the bench and average roughly 9 points, 2 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1.5 steals, while shooting 44 percent from the floor and 33 percent from three, in 28 minutes per game. These expectations are based on him starting somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 games, and also being one of the first two players off the bench.
As NBA ready as I think Winslow is, he plays on a team that won’t ask him to do too much: It has one of the East’s most solid core groups of veterans. I’d imagine the Heat’s biggest wish is that he can just be the cherry on top, for now at least.