Prospect Profile: Justise Winslow

Justise Winslow didn’t arrive on the campus of Duke University with quite the same level of hype and fanfare as fellow Blue Devils Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones. But the 19-year-old certainly made a name for himself as the season wore on, and his stellar play in the 2015 NCAA Tournament helped Duke capture the National Championship. In fact, it was Winslow’s performance in March that finally separated him from a crowded 2015 NBA draft field at the forward position, and propelled him from a projected mid first-rounder to a potential top five selection.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

In 39 games this past season, Winslow averaged 12.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.3 steals in 29.1 minutes per contest. His slash line was .486/.418/.641. The talented forward is currently the No. 5 overall prospect according to Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress, while Chad Ford of (Insider subscription required) ranks Winslow at No. 6 on his big board.

While Winslow’s superior athleticism is readily apparent, what remains to be seen is if he is simply a player who got hot at the right time, or if his stellar NCAA postseason was part of his natural development into a top-tier player. Winslow’s showing during his pre-draft workouts will be especially vital given the depth at the forward position at the top of the draft. He’ll need to show NBA scouts and executives during these showcases that he can nail his outside shots with consistency, or else he could slide just a bit come draft night.

Offensively, Winslow is still very much a work in progress. He was considered a mediocre shooter coming into college, as he made just 26 of the 86 [30%] 3-pointers he attempted in the 82 games (FIBA, EYBL, Adidas Nations, etc) he participated in prior to arriving at Duke, notes Givony. But the freshman has obviously worked hard on his mechanics, and he connected on 46 of the 111 [41.8%] treys he attempted while at Duke, which was obviously a significant improvement. But Winslow still has virtually no mid-range game to rely on, and he struggles to score coming off the dribble, only hitting on 2 of the 19 pull-ups he attempted on the year according to the DraftExpress scribe. This is not an area of the game that will get easier once he squares off against NBA-caliber defenders, so Winslow will have a lot to prove during his pre-draft showcases to show he’s worthy of a top five pick in June.

Winslow is an absolute stud in the transition game, and in the open floor he is a load to handle on defense thanks to his athleticism. He is also an excellent ball-handler with a solid basketball IQ, and rarely turns the ball over. All rare traits for a freshman. Winslow is also adept at moving without the ball in his hands, and his ability to make cuts and attack the rim should mesh well with the pick-and-roll fetish prevalent in most NBA teams’ offenses today. Matched with a willing and creative point guard, Winslow should receive his fair share of lobs and dunk opportunities as a result of his capable off-the-ball game when he hits the NBA hardwood.

One aspect of his college game that may not travel well to the pros is Winslow’s reliance on his strength to attack the basket. He was able to overpower most of his NCAA opponents down on the block this season, which isn’t necessarily something Winslow will be able to do in the NBA. Especially if he is deployed at power forward like he was the second half of the 2014/15 season. A great deal of Winslow’s success in the NBA offensively will be predicated on his eventual position. Winslow may be able to succeed at the four if utilized the way Carmelo Anthony is by the Knicks when he plays power forward. But I do think Winslow is best suited as a small forward long-term, though he’ll need to develop his consistency from the outside, as well as improve upon his 64% mark from the charity stripe at Duke in order to be an effective wing long term in the NBA.

Winslow’s most appealing quality right now as an NBA prospect is his ability to be a tenacious lockdown defender. This is an area where his strength becomes a tremendous asset, and very few college big men were able to overpower him in the paint area. But Winslow is also quick and agile enough to stay in front of guards while out on the perimeter, giving him tremendous versatility on the defensive end of the floor, Givony opines. Winslow also possesses excellent footwork, solid situational awareness, and he is equally adept at defending one-on-one as he is being a team defender within his rotations.

It’s Winslow’s ability to defend four positions that will stand out when teams are assessing his value as a lottery pick. With more and more NBA teams deploying non-traditional lineups, players will have to be able to adapt and display versatility to benefit their prospective teams. As a defender Winslow reminds me quite a bit of the Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who also was accompanied by questions regarding his outside game when he entered the league. While Kidd-Gilchrist hasn’t evolved into the two-way player that Charlotte had hoped, Winslow’s mechanics are significantly better than the former Kentucky forward, which bodes well for his chances for success in the NBA.

In conclusion, the 19-year-old has an NBA-ready frame, the quickness to guard wing players, but also the strength to bang inside with the fours. But this versatility is also accompanied by the worry that Winslow is a tweener, which is a regular concern with many college forwards transitioning to the NBA. I can see Winslow developing into Kawhi Leonard just as easily as he could become Derrick Williams or Thomas Robinson. And while Williams and Robinson are serviceable rotation pieces, neither is a player who can change the face of a franchise, which is what teams are hoping for from a potential top five selection like Winslow. However, I do like the forward’s chances of growing into a special player in the NBA after a few seasons. Winslow will likely come off the board in the four to seven range on draft night.

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