Should the Miami Heat creatively tank this season with Chris Bosh’s health remaining a complete mystery, and their first round pick still in their pocket to use before possibly sending it to Phoenix next year, or give it the ol’ college try and see where it ends up taking them?
While the baseline of their success will depend on the health and productivity of Hassan Whiteside, Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic, Miami’s upside is largely dependent on the second-year duo of Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson. Whiteside is the catalyst of the post-Dwyane Wade Miami Heat, and Bosh is still the best all-around player, even with his future in the air. But the Heat should look to burn the rubber off these Forgiato wheels they have in Winslow and Richardson, giving them all the minutes they can handle while expectations are lowered. They aren’t quite polished enough to lead the Heat to the promise land just yet, but with smart maneuvering and a great plan for the future, a clearer picture becomes painted.
The perfect descriptor of Justise Winslow might be “Hades is relentless and untamed, so mortals hate him most of all the gods.” His game is a bit of an enigma—not so much in his strengths and weaknesses, but where and when he is most effective. Winslow’s shot still needs significant improvement and he brandishes an unimpressive Player Efficiency Rating. If Winslow ever becomes any sort of threat on the offensive end, it will take significant time and work. But he moves around on defense like a limber version of Ron Artest, possesses a penchant for making stuff happen on the court at any position and confidently exhibits defensive instincts like an unwanted shadow.
Let’s start with the negatives in dissecting Winslow’s game. Winslow had an awful January and a mediocre February, showing an inconsistency that almost every rookie not named Karl-Anthony Towns endured. Winslow is a non-factor when he attempts a pull-up jumper—shooting 30 percent, and not much better at knocking down wide open shots at a meager 36 percent, which is lower than his contested field goal average. Guarding Winslow goes against conventional wisdom—defenders need a second in the heat of the moment to remember he doesn’t need a hand in his face to miss. Winslow fared far better converting transitional layups, proving that when he’s ripping and running out in transition, he’s truly in his comfort zone.
The good—great even, comes from his staple: defense. Pressuring defenders with fearless tenacity and versatility enables him to play even the center position in certain lineups.
His free throw attempts won’t highlight any prodigal numbers, but it’s damn hard for a rookie to get respect in the league, and Winslow looks deft at drawing contact and getting to the rim with an agenda. While his jumper comes along, getting to the basket is the next best thing for a player that needs to gain respect on that end and see the ball go through the hoop.
Richardson is a second round combo guard out of Tennessee who instantly made half of the guard rotation expendable for the Heat last season. The beauty of Richardson’s game lies in being a lot of what Winslow isn’t on offense—a dependable shooter—and some of what Winslow already is on defense.
Richardson had an otherworldly April, shooting over 50 percent in both FG% and 3FG%, enthralling and endearing Heat fans to this compelling second rounder. Although he has a slightly slow release, his size (6’6), ball handling, shooting, and adequate court vision makes him a viable option at either guard position. I liken Richardson to a bigger, more athletic and immediate impact Avery Bradley sort of player—which is damn good.
The playoffs Snapchatted a different story as the games ground to a halt, finding himself neutralized to an extent, which is not at all surprising for a rookie in his first playoff series. Richardson still found himself situationally effective, just not as feverish as his post all-star game run.
Richardson and Justise Winslow played a substantial amount of minutes on the floor together, where they showed promising comfort and familiarity with each other’s games. They’ve already been thrown into the fire, and now with unexpected minutes opening up and an offense presumably being catered to the players currently on the Heat roster, it will be interesting to see how these two deal with their sophomore seasons and the expectations they have for it.
If you want to watch an entire season of a blend of younger and older players playing with the sting of a dispatched hero, the Heat are your League Pass team. They will be maddeningly up and down, and your brain will root for the youth to take full control with Erik Spoelstra cranking up the tempo, taking them out of the bottom five slowest paced teams of last year. The heart will root for success as they leave everything on the court and see where their car stalls, draft position be damned.
Overall, I think it’s imperative that the Heat catch lightning in a bottle, a bottle being shipped out to sea in 2018 if they’re unlucky, and vanishing completely the next year (2019) regardless of their desire to acquire a Dennis Smith Jr, Josh Jackson, Harry Giles, or Markelle Fultz this season. Any and all of those four players would pair well with the versatile young core Miami already has built.
It’s time for the Heat to take advantage of these vacation days while they still have them, and do right towards the future, and the fans of a team now headlined by an unpredictable bunch of well-meaning misfits. Winslow and Richardson aren’t a be-all, end-all unstoppable duo, but they do offer promising multi-positional talent that will certainly become enhanced with a short-term infusion of youth.