• Kyle Russell

Justise Winslow is in the Most Improved Player Conversation


USA Today

Justise Winslow has gone by a few different nicknames throughout his young career. For his supporters, he’s “Justise Better”. For his critics, he’s “Bustise” Winslow. Since December, however, Winslow has shed the Bustice moniker entirely, and proved that Justise really is Better.

In fact, Winslow has muscled his way into the Most Improved Player conversation.

Should he win MIP, Winslow would join an impressive crop of recent winners, some of whom will win All-NBA honors this year. The last three recipients in order are Victor Oladipo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and CJ McCollum. Decidedly good company.

Justise Winslow started out his career in Miami looking poised to be a great player, earning comparisons to Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and Draymond Green. In fact, Boston reportedly offered Charlotte four first-round picks to move up in the 2015 draft to snag him. Instead, he was selected by the Miami Heat with the 10th pick.

During his rookie year he flashed high level defensive potential and versatility, defending and playing all five positions. Though his three-point shot needed a lot of work, he proved a meaningful contributor to Miami into the postseason.

The next two years, however, were a rollercoaster for Winslow. His sophomore season his three-point shot regressed, his field goal percentage cratered, and he eventually underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. When he returned the following year, Winslow found himself out of the rotation and without a defined role.

Though he flashed a much-improved jump shot, the volume was still low enough that it wasn’t taken seriously by opposing defenses. Winslow earned minutes as a backup point guard, a position where the Heat lacked depth. Chief Justise did well in this limited role, showing a knack for making smart decisions with the ball in his hands. Still, he logged just 24.7 minutes per game, the lowest mark of his career.

This season started out much like the last, with Winslow not having a defined role, mainly serving as a backup point guard. Several weeks into the 2018-19 campaign, and he commanded a new respect for his improved shooting prowess, but disappointed elsewhere.

However, in December an arthroscopic knee surgery sidelined starting point guard Goran Dragic. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra called Winslow’s number, and since then, Justise been served.

Since becoming the starting point guard in Dragic’s absence, Winslow has been nothing short of amazing. He slows things down when he’s at the helm. Likewise, he limits turnovers and gets his teammates involved with excellent passes. This has allowed the Heat to play their preferred style, and as a result Miami has been racking up wins and climbing up the standings.

Winslow has also been attacking the basket with improved results. He’s able to finish at the rim or just as easily make the smart pass out to open shooters. His jump shot also shows improved confidence. With defense still as his calling card, Winslow has developed into an impressive two-way player, making a loud case to be considered for Most Improved Player this season.

Unlike previous years where there was a clear frontrunner or obvious narrative surrounding the MIP award, this season feels much more open. Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors and De’Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings are two of Winslow’s biggest competitors.

Siakam has become a consistent starter and energy guy for the Toronto Raptors, though he benefits from playing alongside All-Stars like Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. Fox, meanwhile, has established himself as the leader of the Kings. His play has dipped a bit as of late, and as a result the Kings are sliding out of the playoff picture in a crowded Western conference.

If Miami continues to solidify their playoff position as Winslow continues to take over the point guard role for Miami, the possibility certainly exists for him to earn Most Improved Player.

#NBA #Heat #KyleRussell

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