Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow is experiencing a bit of a learning curve when it comes to adapting to the NBA style of basketball.
After being selected 10th overall by the Heat in the 2015 NBA Draft out of Duke University, Winslow averaged 6.4 points and 5.2 rebounds over 28.6 minutes in 78 games played (eight starts) in his rookie season before putting up 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds over 34.7 minutes in 18 games played (15 starts) in his sophomore campaign last year. That season was ultimately cut short due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
While he has clearly struggled on the offensive side of the ball, Winslow has been an elite defensive asset for the Heat, showing off a valuable versatility to defend pretty much any position on the court with ferocity and tenaciousness.
Although he could very well be ready to step back on the court for the start of the upcoming season, Heat president of basketball operations Pat Riley revealed that his starting gig might not be a sure thing anymore.
Instead, the Heat are looking at Josh Richardson, a 6’6” 23-year-old who averaged 10.2 points and 3.2 rebounds over 30.5 minutes in 53 games played (34 starts) last year for the club, to challenge Winslow for a spot in the starting five.
“Though he’s a guard by trade, people around the Heat expect Josh Richardson to emerge as a serious challenger to Justise Winslow and Rodney McGruder for the starting small forward job,” Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported.
Riley noted that the club has a number of versatile players who could play the two, three or four in what is becoming a more-and-more positionless NBA. These players include Winslow, Richardson, McGruder Wayne Ellington, James Johnson and Okaro White. Additionally, Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson and Dion Waiters can play either guard spot while rookie Bam Adebayo, Udonis Haslem and Jordan Mickey, Kelly Olynyk can play either the four or the five.
“Wherever coach Spo wants to take this positionless game, it can be real small, with him playing five on down to three point guards with Justise at four [or three bigs],” Heat president Pat Riley told Jackson earlier this summer, acknowledging that Richardson is an option at small forward. “How ever he feels, the whole concept of positionless has to do with the offense. Every player knows all of the positions.”
Riley directly verified that as of right now, the starting spot held by Winslow last season is currently open to whoever wants it most.
“It’s up to him,” Riley said of Winslow being a starter. “He was short-circuited by the wrist and the shoulder. Justise is going to compete like crazy to start. The great thing about Spo, is when we come into training camp, it’s open.”
Regardless of who starts, both Winslow and Richardson will likely play major minutes. But, it would be a significant blow to Winslow’s career path if he ends up being thrust into purely a low-minute, reserve role.