Justise Winslow finding his lane at point guard

AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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DETROIT – Asked whether point guard is his best position long-term, Justise Winslow cocked his head to the side as if he were contemplating while also nodding several times as if he were certain.

Finally, he answered

“Right now, it’s looking like it,” Winslow said, breaking into a smile.

It’s still a little strange to view Winslow – who has spent most of his career as a 6-foot-7 forward – as a point guard rather than a forward moonlighting at point guard. But the longer he covers for injured Heat point guard Goran Dragic, the more it seems Winslow has found a fit.

In 24 games since clearly seizing the starting point guard job, Winslow is averaging 14.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.3 turnovers per game. Miami is scoring 110.0 points and outscoring opponents by 4.9 points per 100 possessions with Winslow on the court during this stretch – better marks than the team posted with Dragic.

Eventually, Dragic will get healthy, and the Heat haven’t said what they’ll do then. But don’t mistake Winslow’s delay in answering about his optimal position with uncertainty.

“I’m not doubtful. I just don’t know what the future holds for me,” Winslow said. “But, right now, I’m just trying to make the most of this opportunity. I love playing point guard.

“It’s whatever this team needs, but at the same time, you’ve kind of got to look out for yourself in this league and play to your strengths.”

Miami hasn’t overwhelmed Winslow with point-guard duties. Teammates – including James Johnson, Tyler Johnson (before he got traded) and Dion Waiters – sometimes bring the ball up and initiate despite Winslow being on the floor. The Heat play slow and run few fastbreaks with Winslow at point guard.

But his methodical approach works in the halfcourt. He can see over most perimeter defenders. He has the size and strength to get to spots where can find passing angles. He has made some creative finds. All that has been displayed in his pick-and-rolls:

Winslow’s 3-point percentage during this stretch (38%) is up from prior in his career (32%). That’s still on a relatively small sample (106 attempts), and he has shot better in a sample that size before. But Winslow never matched this volume of 3-point attempts earlier in his career. He is more confident beyond the arc, and he says it’s directly related to his position change.

“Dribbling it up, initiating the offense, that kind of helps me get a feel for the ball,” Winslow said. “And I think that’s kind of where the shooting percentage is coming.”

Teams still tend to go under screens against him, but with him at point guard, they can’t ignore him. It’s far easier to defend 5-on-4 with the non-threatening shooter off the ball. When he’s the primary ball-handler, you have to account for him.

Winslow remains a versatile defender, capable of guarding any position. He’s not suddenly guarding more point guards. But with Winslow at point guard surrounded by a typical 2-3-4-5 – as opposed to small forward surrounded by a typical 1-2-4-5 – the Heat can use bigger lineups with that tend to defend better.

After talking a while about playing point guard, Winslow was asked whether he had any more thoughts.

“I love to pass, man. I love to make plays. I love the easy play, the simple play. I love the reads. I love the challenges behind it. I love the responsibility of nights like this, if we don’t win, I like the responsibility and the blame, you can say. I like just the quarterbacking mindset and position of point guard. I like being in control. I like running the show. I like getting my teammates open,” Winslow said, finally taking a breath. “Yeah.”