2015 NBA Draft profile: Justise Winslow
Quick: Who was Duke’s leading rebounder in the Blue Devils’ victory over Wisconsin two months ago in the NCAA championship game?
No, it wasn’t Jahlil Okafor, who seems a lock to be the first or second player drafted later this month. It was Justise Winslow, who stands five inches shorter than Okafor at 6-foot-6 but should still be a standout performer in the NBA.
After he began seeing extended playing time at power forward, Winslow played the best basketball of his only season at Duke and had nine rebounds and three blocked shots against Wisconsin to make up for a subpar shooting performance.
But it will be at the small forward position where his future lies. Winslow, who turned 19 in March, is strong enough to hold his own in the post and speedy enough to run with guards.
"I’m someone who can come in and instantly make an impact on defense," he said at the NBA combine last month. "I can eventually be a lock-down defender."
Considering there were only three first-round picks a year ago who averaged more than 8.9 points a game as rookies, Winslow’s defensive prowess could make him an immediate asset. In 39 games at Duke, he averaged 12.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 22.6 minutes.
At nearly 230 pounds with a 6-10 wingspan, Winslow is more mature physically than many one-and-done players. While he can finish at the rim with authority and is dangerous in the open floor, his 3-point shooting has improved tremendously since the start of his freshman year. He also averaged more assists than turnovers, which speaks well of his decision-making abilities.
On defense, he is versatile enough to guard players at three positions. He’s tough and physical, and he might be an even better team defender than he is individually, with a knack for making plays off the ball and helping out his teammates. In addition to all that talent, he is considered an individual with high character and a gym rat willing to work on his game.
He lacks the ability to shoot off the dribble and has not been effective in isolation or pick-and-roll situations. There are also concerns about Winslow’s 64 percent free-throw shooting, although players at his position have come into the league shooting far worse than that before improving markedly by the time their rookie seasons ended.
His game relies a lot on power, and simply lowering his shoulder on his way through the lane won’t work as well at the next level. Adding an in-between game and developing a quicker release would make him more multi-dimensional.
Maybe it’s because they’re both lefthanders who look older than they are, but Winslow has frequently been compared to Houston Rockets guard James Harden, the runner-up in the voting for MVP. While Winslow has the skills to move over from forward to guard, he averaged only four free-throw attempts a game last season — numbers which aren’t exactly Harden-like in nature.
A more accurate frame of reference could be drawn between Winslow and Wilson Chandler, who started in 75 games at small forward for the Denver Nuggets and hit a career-high 139 3-pointers in 2014-15. He also averaged more than six rebounds, a figure which puts him up there with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard.
His father, Rickie, played at the University of Houston and was a freshman on the team which made it to the NCAA championship game in 1984 with Hakeem Olajuwon before losing to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. The elder Winslow was taken by the Chicago Bulls in the second round of the 1987 draft but went on to instead play in Europe.