Doubters and Dreamers in Justise Winslow’s Dominant Debut

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“No Dion, no Jimmy, no JJ… Surely Justise Winslow will give us the scoring output needed to win vs. the lowly Grizzlies”– anonymous

“Idiot wind
Blowing every time you move your teeth
You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe” — Bob Dylan

Justise Winslow may be the most divisive Miami baller of the post-Big 3 era. He’s either Bustise Winslow or Justise Better depending on who you ask. Some fans saw pre-draft coverage in which columns crowned him the next James Harden and were understandably disappointed by the obvious offensive deficiencies displayed by the former Duke forward during his first few professional seasons. 

The “Bustise Winslow” camp came to house a range of Heat fans from reasonable skeptics turned off by his perceived lack of offensive potential to impatient pessimists pouting that their team’s prospect wasn’t putting up 70 points in losses like the player the Suns picked the same year. 

https://twitter.com/HakeemTheLean/status/1187190180941352960

The “Justise Better” bunch is even more diverse, composed of patient optimists impressed by Winslow’s defensive versatility and budding ability as a distributor, #HeatCulture bootlickers who blindly believe in anything the organization advertises, semi-delusional mumpsimuses resolute in their pre-draft predictions of Winslow’s inevitable superstardom, and apathetic Twitter trolls simply looking to provoke folks from the “Bustise Winslow” crowd. 

There have been the doubters and the dreamers, divided over competing visions for the team’s ideal future, divided over Winslow’s prominence in that future, divided over Winslow’s presence in that future. 

Now, if you’ve paid attention the past few years, you’ve witnessed Winslow’s steady (if subtle) development. You’ve seen his confidence rise upon settling into his proper role running the point. You’ve seen him slowly add tool after tool to his game, reworking his once broken jumper and becoming increasingly reliable around the rim. You know that by the latter half of last year there wasn’t a player on the Heat better than Justise Winslow. 

Nevertheless, many fans and media members entered the new NBA season still uncertain about Justise. This wasn’t entirely unwarranted. His offensive transformation is still relatively recent and the addition of Jimmy Butler saddled Justise with new expectations and a new offense to fit into. Nobody knows for sure what Winslow is, what he can be, what he will be next to Jimmy. 

Justise helped answer the first two questions last night. In a 19 point opening night win over Memphis, Winslow tallied 27 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. He did a bit of everything: pushing in transition, preying on mismatches in the post, fearlessly putting up jumpers, fighting his way to the free throw line, finding open men with precise passes. Any remaining doubters can look to this game as further evidence of what Winslow is capable of offering Miami. 

Of course, dazzling debuts can set a dangerous precedent. Fans can’t help but overreact to the first game. After months of offseason dreams and doubts, starving for answers to a dozen “what-ifs”, fans are ready to draw endless conclusions from the smallest of samples. 

No, Justise Winslow won’t average 27 points a game. He’ll average way more (Kidding.. Kind of). The Grizzlies probably aren’t that great a team, defenses will adjust to Justise, and Miami still has several players to incorporate into the rotation. Winslow will inevitably take a step back statistically (at least as far as raw, box-score data goes) as Jimmy Butler takes the reins. Nobody should be shocked to see him struggle for a few games as he learns to play next to the Heat’s newest star. You shouldn’t count on 27 points a night from Justise.

Part of Jimmy’s value is that the team won’t need to count on Justise to score. The important thing is that he can have nights like these when needed. Winslow’s appeal has always been his versatility and nobody should be surprised to see plenty of Rondo-esque statlines over the course of the year.

Justise Winslow may always be subliminally linked to James Harden by virtue of pre-draft comparisons. He may always be linked to Devin Booker due to their respective draft positions. People may always want Justise to be a 25+-points-a-night guy like those two. When they see a game like last night’s against Memphis, the dreamers become a bit more hopeful that he can be that guy. Maybe he can be! But when his shot is off, the doubters will proudly fall back on “I told you so”s. Whatever happens going forward, Justise Winslow’s success should never be judged by his scoring average.

Games like yesterday’s won’t be what makes Winslow valuable. It’ll be his ability to have games like this and single digit scoring nights where he seamlessly directs traffic on one end and shuts down whoever he guards on the other. Winslow shouldn’t be judged on whether he can deliver this performance every night; he should be judged on whether he can deliver whatever type of performance Miami needs on any given night.

Justise Better.

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