Humans, especially NBA minds, put people in boxes — we stereotype them — and sometimes that’s helpful when making snap judgments. Other times, it can miscast a person.
Justise Winslow was drafted a versatile two-way stalwart. When it was obvious that Winslow wasn’t quite as ready to produce on the offensive end, the Miami Heat slid Winslow down to the power-forward or 4 spot, where his limited offensive repertoire wouldn’t be as scrutinized. Plus, Winslow's size was supposed to allow him to do this, though he’s only 6-foot-4 without shoes, according to DraftExpress.
In a blink, the NBA has changed. From when Winslow was drafted in 2015 to now, the 4 spot has evolved further — requiring swingman-like skills — making basketball’s 2 through 4 positions, at times, indistinguishable. Most importantly, those positions require the ability to space the floor and play defense. Winslow has the latter part of that down. But a lot of players solve for part of the “3-and-D” equation; special players solve for both.
With few exceptions, being good at one thing is no longer a ticket to NBA supremacy. Centers and dominant forwards can sometimes be that exception:
To occupy a frontcourt spot in the NBA while not being able to stretch the floor — like Winslow, a 26-percent career 3-point shooter — you need demonstrable big man attributes: rebounding, rim protection, pick-and-roll acumen. Winslow doesn’t do any of those things especially well.
So, as the 2017-18 NBA season approaches, what position is Winslow? Enigma is not a word that’s ever been attached to Winslow, but maybe it should be. Perhaps Winslow’s draft evaluators got him wrong. Now, Miami’s roster might’ve passed him by.
After Winslow got hurt last season (2016-2017), head coach Erik Spoelstra went on to play six guards over 24 minutes per game — with huge success. For context, the Rockets played five guards over 24 minutes per game; Portland four; Boston three.
Miami is a guard-heavy team not averse to playing three 6-foot-6-and-under shooters at a time. And it works for them.
Simultaneously, there are only 96 minutes per game to fill for two frontcourt players. If last season is any indicator, center Hassan Whiteside will play around 33 minutes per game; 27 for James Johnson at the 4 spot; around 25 for Kelly Olynyk at the 4, too. That’s 85 of 96 minutes – not counting the minutes rookie Bam Adebayo might garner.
With Miami hitting its stride as a guard-heavy, 3-point shooting team last year, it’s hard to see where Winslow fits in. A non-shooting, subpar finisher, who isn’t really a big man, is an enigma.
It’s hard to stereotype a player with no real category.