The Morning After: Justise (Was) Better

Insight

Another night, another loss.

After a strong first half showing, the Miami Heat once again fell apart in the third quarter, this time at the hands of the Washington Wizards. An eight-point lead turned into a five-point deficit. Shots were missed, fouls were committed, turnovers piled up, and Bradley Beal went nova.

It’s almost like this is a trend.

The Heat roster hopefuls closed out the fourth quarter, but ultimately couldn’t out-duel the likes of Austin Rivers, Jeff Green, and … (checks notes) Devin Robinson?

Well, alright then.

You know how the preseason preface works by now: we’re looking for encouraging signs more than gaudy numbers — though they obviously help. With that in mind, it’s time to shine a (positive) light on Justise Winslow.

Following two less-than-stellar offensive performances, Winslow gave us some playoff flashbacks on Friday night. He finished with an efficient 17 points (4-of-7 from the field, 7-of-8 from the line), but what stood out the most was how aggressive he was.

Winslow kicked things off with a transition bucket. Watch how he shields off Beal before finishing through the swipe at the rim.

A little later, we get a glimpse of something I’d like to see more of: Winslow finishing off a two-foot gather rather than his usual 1-2:

That’s impressive body control from someone that’s struggled with finishing at the rim. I, for one, was very tired of seeing him get swatted at the rim, so this was a welcomed change. Any hint of him being able to consistently absorb and finish through contact is worth looking at since it’s his biggest offensive flaw right now.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Winslow piece without some sort of mention of his passing. He only finished with one assist, but he sure made it worth it. Just look at this laser:

He runs a wide pick-and-roll with Kelly Olynyk there. While Miami has seen a lot of “drop” coverage in those scenarios this preseason, Washington switches it up by, well, switching. With Ian Mahinmi on an island, Winslow gives a slight hesitation dribble before blowing by. Jason Smith rotates down to cut off the drive, and a cut by Yante Maten brings Tomas Satoransky into the picture. But all that does for Winslow is open up a passing window for Duncan Robinson in the corner.

Of course it’s only preseason, but Winslow needed to have this kind of game. He’s a different player when he’s forcing the issue a little bit. On nights like Friday where he’s finishing well at the rim and knocking down open threes (he hit a pair), he forces defenses to account for him, and that opens up the offense in a much-needed way.

More, please.


Preseason Notes

• Dwyane Wade, everybody!

His 10-point surge at the end of the first quarter featured: a pair of threes (what?), the up-and-under in the above clip, and a super contested stepback jimmy. Even in preseason, it’s cool when Wade goes to his bag of “F-U” shots. It was legitimately fun … and a bit of a relief, honestly. Wade hadn’t been able to get much to go through two games, but he finally found a flow against Washington.

• Yante Maten was very impressive. He, like Winslow, finished with an efficient 17 points while doing a little bit of everything. A tough transition finish here; an offensive rebound there; a few triples splashed around, and a little bit of activity on defense. He should be fun in Sioux Falls.

• Guys — Rodney McGruder can do stuff:

This is what a consistent dosage of on-ball reps can lead to. Props to McGruder for putting in the work to get better. He’s made quite a case to crack the rotation this year, even with Miami’s logjam of perimeter players.

• This probably goes without saying at this point, but Hassan Whiteside was, once again, #good. I’m not sure if I want to see him in another preseason game. Keep the cardio up in practice so he’ll be ready for the regular season — here, or, um, elsewhere.

• Things got ugly for Kelly Olynyk last night on the defensive end. He constantly found himself behind plays, botching countless stunt-and-recover sequences. Markieff Morris had an endless buffet of open looks when Olynyk was his matchup. As much as the Olynyk-Whiteside pairing intrigues me (and apparently Miami) on offense, the lineup really hinges on Olynyk’s ability to defend mobile 4s. If he can’t do it — and he certainly couldn’t on Friday — I’m not sure how much burn that pairing can get against good teams.

• It’s simultaneously hard not to love Briante Weber, and very hard to love Briante Weber. He plays so hard defensively. He legitimately bothers people with his on-ball tenacity and quick hands. It’s easy to root for a guy that plays defense at 100 MPH and has an idea of what he’s doing out there. But that aggressiveness just … disappears on the other end.

Far too often, he’s dribbling and probing without a plan. Well, let me take that back: he’s dribbling and probing with the sole purpose of passing the ball — and defenses know this. It wasn’t until midway through the fourth quarter that Weber decided, “Hey, maybe I should look for my shot some.” And you know what happened? He started getting into the lane and tossing in push shots and floaters.

Weber has made it clear that he wasn’t to be a “pure” point guard. In a vacuum, there’s nothing wrong with prioritizing getting your teammates shots over your own. But defenses are smart. They switch a lot. You have to pose some sort of threat in order to make them account for you. If you can’t knock down pull-up threes in pick-and-roll, you have to make defenses account for the pull-up middy. If you don’t have the pull-up middy, you have to make defenses account for the drive. Weber is too fast to at least not accomplish the latter.

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