MIAMI (AP) — Justise Winslow is two weeks into his NBA career, and here’s just a partial list of some of the players the Miami Heat have already called upon him to guard: LeBron James, Paul George, James Harden and DeMar DeRozan.
All big-time scorers.
And Winslow hasn’t flinched.
"He’s going to be all right," DeRozan said.
Miami would agree with that sentiment, and then some. The 19-year-old who helped Duke win the NCAA title last season already is firmly in the Heat rotation, even leading the team in fourth-quarter minutes played — a sign of the trust that coach Erik Spoelstra has in Winslow. The Heat have outscored opponents by 72 points with Winslow on the floor, and he’s fast becoming a fan favorite in Miami.
"He competes, he studies, he applies, he learns," Spoelstra said. "And that’s all that you can ask for from a young kid."
Winslow isn’t putting up dazzling scoring numbers yet, averaging 7.3 points through the first eight games for a Miami team that plays host to the Utah Jazz on Thursday night.
He’s earned his time primarily through stellar work on the defensive end, which doesn’t surprise his college coach whatsoever.
"He already has the physical strength of a man in his mid-20s," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He’s not a teenager as far as strength goes. He’s very well balanced in addition to having strength and he’s beyond his years mentally. He doesn’t overcommit himself. He’s right, focused and then he has the body to be focused. And he wants to play defense. He checks every box as far as being an outstanding defender and he can defend multiple positions."
That goes back to Winslow’s upbringing.
The youngest of five children in his family — and with a father, Rickie Winslow, who played for Houston’s Phi Slama Jama team with Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon — scoring didn’t come easily for Winslow.
"I always took defense personal," Winslow said. "I was the youngest in my family so I couldn’t really score on my siblings. So I had to play defense."
Luckily for the Heat, Winslow still has the same approach.
"You tell him something once," Dwyane Wade said, "and he gets it right away."
Krzyzewski is plenty familiar with the Heat, and had a hunch Winslow would fit in Miami. The team’s CEO, Nick Arison, was Duke’s manager for four seasons when former Heat player Shane Battier was the Blue Devils’ star.
A trio of current Heat players — Winslow, Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts — all played at Duke. Wade and Chris Bosh played for Krzyzewski on the U.S. Olympic team, and the coach has a long history with Spoelstra, Heat President Pat Riley and managing general partner Micky Arison.
So when Winslow slid to No. 10 and into Miami’s lap on draft night, Krzyzewski was ecstatic.
"I thought it was the perfect fit," Krzyzewski said. "The Heat organization itself, the Arison family, Pat Riley, Erik as the head coach, they’re as good as anybody and they’re unbelievably professional. And then Justise would be surrounded on a daily basis with Dwyane, Chris, Luol, ultimate top-notch guys. I don’t think there could be a better environment for him, really."
On the court, the Heat can’t find a way to rattle Winslow.
Off the court, the only thing that seems to work is when they ask him to talk. He’ll laugh when teammates make jabs about his wild hair, he’s answered questions the right way, but he primarily stays quiet and goes about his business.