Miami Heat: What’s Made #JustiseBetter?

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 28: Justise Winslow #20 of the Miami Heat (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 28: Justise Winslow #20 of the Miami Heat (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

For a good part of this Miami Heat season, the hashtag “#JustiseBetter” has been a real thing. Why? The answer is: Justise Winslow has just been better, and here’s why.

Coming down the home stretch, and appropriately while trying to hold on to the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat are playing some of their best basketball of the season. There are many reasons one could point to when trying to figure out why, which include the further development of players, the defining of roles, or simply head coach Erik Spoelstra figuring out the most reliable and effective rotation.  While all these reasons could be true, and probably play a part in this recent surge, there is one in particular that stands out above the rest: Justise Winslow.

He is not only having the best season of his young career, but one that could be career defining. While averaging career bests almost entirely across the board, and on a much higher volume of shooting, Winslow has seemed to finally found his niche in the NBA. What exactly though, has made Justise better?

If you look at Winslow at Duke, he came in as a highly touted freshman as apart of a highly-touted class, that would eventually win the NCAA title that year. Other than the fact that he was playing with other extremely talented college players like Jahlil Okafor and Tyus jones, what led to Justise being drafted at 10th overall by the Heat was his versatility on the court.

Not only was he a defensive force at Duke, but he often found himself forced to match up with much bigger players on the defensive end of the floor. On the offensive side of the ball, he was a matchup nightmare as bigs were often too slow of foot to guard him on-ball or in transition, while guards tended to be too small. This was all made possible by the fact that even then, Winslow was adept at receiving heavy dosages of ball-handling duty.

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He was a master at the rip-and-run, where he would grab a defensive rebound on one end of the floor, and take it all the way to the cup on the other end. He wasn’t just a finisher in these situations though, where he would often times find the cutter or drop off the pass to Okafor for the easy deuce. This is where Winslow was at his best.

That seems to have been foresight on the part of the great “Coach K“, Mike Krzyzewki (go figure), as Winslow has been a revelation this season for the Heat at point guard. Although they have toyed with the idea in the past, making Winslow the de facto point guard for a good part of  this season has re-ignited the talent the Miami Heat knew they were getting when they took him 10th overall in 2015.

All it took was for them to put the ball back in his hands on a more regular basis, allowing him to not only dictate the flow of the game, but to also manipulate defenses with his driving and passing abilities. This is one of the reasons Winslow is having his best season as a pro.

As the old saying goes, “necessity breeds innovation”. Well in this case, not only did it breed innovation on the Miami Heat’s part, but it also bred opportunity. At one point in the season, Justise Winslow and Dwyane Wade were the only two viable options as main ball-handlers for this Heat team. This isn’t to say that Josh Richardson couldn’t have taken on that role, but he is too important and valuable to the team as a wing shooter, scorer, and defender.

Due to lack of other options, Winslow was not only allowed the opportunity to show what he could do as the guy at the point guard position, but he was also allowed to make mistakes. This opportunity can be important for any young player.

In Winlsow’s case, it allowed him to build a confidence in himself when/if he made mistakes by knowing that he wouldn’t be pulled immediately afterward. As with many players, experience is often the best teacher. These opportunities are a major reason for Winslow’s great improvement this season.

Lastly, Winslow can thank himself for his season, and more so here than any of the other reasons mentioned. As reported by the Miami Herald back in January of this year, and as Winslow himself admitted, he was in a very dark place for much of the beginning of his NBA career.

This was the result of multiple things according to the report, but mainly due to injury and outside expectations. On ESPN’s Outside The Lines on Monday the 11th of March, Winlsow opened up about these very times when brought on to discuss “mental health” in the NBA. He spoke to how he felt like he “would never become the player he was” and how tough it was during this time of his life, but he also then spoke on how he came out of it.

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He would eventually close with the sentiments of “appreciating each day” and how “waking up to see the sun rise” were huge parts of what makes him happy these days. In considering everything and as admitted by Justise himself, getting out of his own head is probably the biggest reason that he is having the best season of his young career.

Whatever these reasons may be, Heat Nation and the Miami Heat organization are more than pleased, especially that he is in a better place mentally but also simply because #JustiseBetter.