NEW YORK – The feeling of success has followed Justise Winslow everywhere he’s been on his road to the NBA. In his freshman season at St. John’s he led the high school to their first Texas state championship since 1979 and then added two more championships to the school’s trophy case before heading to Duke.
In his only season in Durham, Winslow tasted the sweet flavor of championship glory as he helped guide Coach K and the Blue Devils to their fifth championship in school history, but when a player shows the flashes Winslow has shown throughout his life on the AAU circuit through college, a paradox is created when the player decides to head to the NBA.
When a high school kid displays a certain level of excellence, elite college programs will send letters and swag to try and acquire their services. When the kid continues to display a similar level of success at the college level, it’s time to try your luck in the NBA, but the Spurs, Warriors, and Clippers aren’t sending letters or cute little stuffed mascots in order to swing a player’s choice regarding a place to continue their career. It’s the bottom feeders in the NBA food chain that are chomping at the bit to obtain a player that can help them climb back up to the top.
The process puts someone like Winslow in a somewhat awkward spot, because if he ends up landing anywhere in his current draft projection (anywhere between the Knicks at four and the Heat at 10) he’s going to head to a team that has and will likely continue feeling a sensation that Winslow has avoided for most of his basketball life.
“Yeah it’s not a concern, but it’s just something that you have to understand. It’s a process. I won a lot,” Winslow said during the pre-draft interviews. ”For me to be able to deal with losing it’s something that I’m going to have to understand. Part of the maturing process is being able to take those losses and get better from them.”
When you watch film of Winslow, it’s easy to understand how he’s put himself in this position. He has the potential to become an elite defender along the lines of Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard. His 6’ 6”, 222 lb frame gives him the ability to switch off of a guard onto a big in a pick-and-roll, a key in this era of the NBA and his 6’ 10.25” wingspan helps him contest shots at the rim just in case a guard does get by him.
So what is it about his defense that makes him so tantalizing on that end of the floor? “I think my ability to use my hands and use my lower body to stay in front of guys,” Winslow told NBCSports’ ProBasketballTalk. “I’m just too physical and athletic that I just wear guys down by the end of the game.”
His offensive game has drawn comparisons to James Harden and when you watch him drive to the hoop or pull up from deep it’s hard to not see a younger, less hairy version of Harden. Winslow and Harden were almost identical in their freshman seasons in terms of threes attempted and made (Harden made 44 out of 108 and Winslow made 46 out of 110). Harden did get to the line much more than Winslow did during their freshman campaigns (270 compared to 156).
Winslow has received some criticism regarding the mechanics of his shot, specifically the trajectory of his shot, but it’s not something Winslow is concerned about, “I haven’t changed any mechanics,” Winslow told ProBasketballTalk. “I’ve just been putting up more reps and building up muscle memory.”
When you’re being compared to Harden on offense and Leonard/Butler on defense, your future is pretty bright to say the least. Justise Winslow just has to make sure the darkness of losing doesn’t gobble up the light of glory that has guided him to this spot.
Twitter – @ScottDargis