MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — Things can be pretty straightforward in the National Basketball Association.
When a player gets lauded for having a huge impact on a win in the NBA, it typically means they put up some big numbers or were playing airtight defense.
Not in Miami Heat rookie Justise Winslow’s case. Not on Monday, anyway.
The story of Winslow’s first pro season is that his impact goes far deeper than conventional stats, well beyond the advanced metrics that analytics crave. It’s simply about an uncanny ability to make the right play at the right time, an almost nightly reminder of the good fortune Miami had on draft night when the 19-year-old out of Duke somehow fell to the Heat with the No. 10 pick.
“He has an upside that could be incredible,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “And what mitigates his rawness is his maturity. He can handle any adversity that’s going on with his shooting or with his position or where he plays or how he plays. He has shown he has the one thing that we knew he did: That intrinsic inner motivation and character. And that’s why a lot of other teams wanted him.”
The maturity was on full display Monday night in Miami’s 103-100 overtime win against the Indiana Pacers. Winslow didn’t score much — he’s not called upon to do that anyway — and his defensive assignment for most of the night was Indiana’s Paul George, who scored a game-high 32 points. So nothing would seem impressive there.
Yet the Heat were raving about him afterward, as they have often this season.
“From the day that we drafted him,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said, “I knew that we had a special guy.”
Forget the seven points, six boards and one block on Monday night — a stat line that has been turned in more than 1,300 times around the league already this season.
When he made those plays was what mattered.
The block came with just under five minutes remaining in regulation, when he soared to erase a shot by Lavoy Allen that would have put Indiana up by six. One of the rebounds came a few seconds later, when he grabbed a miss by Dwyane Wade. Two of the points immediately followed, laying the ball in after that offensive board.
A four-point swing, all by Winslow’s hand, in the span of 21 seconds. Without it, Miami almost certainly wouldn’t have won. And even with his calves cramping to the point that he needed intravenous fluids after the game, he stayed on the floor until the final second to contest the 3-point attempt by George that would have sent the game to a second overtime had it gone down.
“I just live by winning,” Winslow said. “Whatever it takes to win.”
The Heat have asked him to guard elite players all season. And Winslow, as even the elite rookies do, has struggled at times against superstar scorers.
“He’s got a lot to learn,” said George, who was highly complimentary of the Heat rookie. “But he is a good, solid defender. He has great feet. He’s real aggressive and that’s what you want out of your young defenders.”
That aggression is part of the reason why, before their final shot, the Pacers needed to burn two time-outs. It took them three attempts to successfully inbound the basketball, eventually throwing a crosscourt ball to George that went over Winslow’s head. It was all Winslow could do to contest the shot; first, he couldn’t see the pass that well when it started heading George’s way, and secondly, his calves were so bad that he couldn’t really jump.
Still, stardom is expected by those in both the Heat and opposing locker rooms. In separate interviews, George and Riley both made the same comparison. To them, Winslow as a rookie reminds both of Kawhi Leonard as a rookie.
Hearing that made the usually poker-faced Winslow smile.
“We are just trying to find a way to win and find our identity as a team,” Winslow said. “Just being out there is a lot of fun.”
(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)