(After the Miami Heat’s playoff run comes to an end, there will be an NBA draft. Usually that doesn’t mean much compared to the free-agency frenzy that comes each summer, but 2015 was an exception. Below is my instant-reaction column from last June, the night Pat Riley took Justise Winslow in the first round.
Didn’t know at the time that Josh Richardson would be coming, too, in the second round. Both have been great as rookies, comprising perhaps the best Heat draft class since Rony Seikaly, Kevin Edwards and Grant Long in the inaugural season of 1988. You could make a case, too, for 1989 with Glen Rice and Sherman Douglas, or 2003 with Dwyane Wade and who cares, but the point is the same.
Winslow and Richardson are invaluable in the playoffs as rookies and no team could hope for a better draft return than that.)
By Dave George
Palm Beach Post columnist
June 26, 2015
Not a bad way to pick up the pieces of last summer’s disappointment for Pat Riley. Justise Winslow, Miami’s lucky charm all the way down at No. 10 overall in Thursday’s NBA draft, has done as much as any player could to prove his right-away NBA readiness.
Well, there was a time when a big body could do more, back when LeBron James and other monsters stepped right into the league from high school.
Failing that, and bound by new rules, Winslow did the next best thing. He played one season of college ball, played it at Duke, where Coach K lures everybody John Calipari can’t, and won a national championship on the dead run out the door to NBA millions.
This doesn’t make him LeBron. A body-armor suit and a jet pack couldn’t do that. For Miami to get a guy this talented, however, and without trading anything away, this is so much better than it could have been after a season outside the playoffs and wrapped in surgical gauze.
Winslow is a 6-foot-7 wingman ready to take flight as a pro.
He’ll need work, like all No. 10 picks do. Heck, Minnesota has the last three No. 1 overall picks in Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins and now Karl-Anthony Towns, and I’m still not sure the Timberwolves will make the playoffs next season.
With Winslow, however, the Heat are plugging holes before they even open. Nobody knows if Luol Deng, the starting small forward, will sign up for more heavy lifting in Miami. Either way, coach Erik Spoelstra has an athletic kid who will be starting sooner or later and can come off the bench to grab rebounds and shoot 3-pointers until it happens.
Smooth-shooting Devin Booker of Kentucky would have been good, too, since Dwyane Wade’s negotiations for a Heat return come without guarantee. Miami needs a backup there as well.
Can’t have everything, though, even if you’re Calipari. Four of the draft’s top 13 picks played for him at Kentucky, so he has to reload, poor guy.
We’re more concerned around here with getting the Heat back up to speed. Chris Bosh coming back healthy will be huge. Hassan Whiteside putting more polish on his rim-rattling game would be strong, too. Bring back Wade, who surely smiled at Thursday’s prime pickup, and Miami’s almost got it made.
The need for more high-percentage scoring from the perimeter remains to be addressed, if not in the second round then sometime. To me, Riley probably has spent as much time and energy on this draft as he’s going to spend. He’ll start chasing veteran free agents now, for that’s still the quickest way out of the lowly lottery crowd.
Let the Knicks and Magic take those crazy Euro steps on draft night. It’s time to get down to work with players who have been in a brawl or two, either in the pros or in March Madness.
One of the reasons Winslow was expected to go so much higher, maybe even top-five, is that his game actually picked up against better competition. He averaged 14.3 points for Duke in the NCAA Tournament, a bucket more per game than in the regular season, and didn’t mind swinging a few elbows under the boards to supplement that scoring punch.
Go to the Final Four for clues of what he will become. In the national semifinals against Michigan State, an outfit that has to be tough just to make it out of Tom Izzo’s practice gym alive, Winslow got 19 points and nine rebounds. That topped Duke teammate Jahlil Okafor, Thursday’s No. 3 overall pick, in both categories.
Also, Duke had three players on the Final Four all-tournament team. Winslow was one of them. Okafor wasn’t.
Of course, it’s all about development now. That job falls to Spo and his staff.
Riley’s already done his, and without breaking a sweat.