Mandatory Credit: Jim O
After a strong month of November, which featured impressive performances against Michigan State, Stanford and Temple, Justise Winslow rose to the top six in both Jonathan Givony’s and Chad Ford’s Mock Draft. Winslow has slowed down in December, with a non-descript outing against Wisconsin and an average one against Connecticut, but he has still exceeded expectations thus far in his college career.
When I profiled him in July following a strong outing in the FIBA Americas, I mentioned how advanced Winslow’s physical profile is for someone his age and how he maximizes his athleticism on defense by playing with a lot of effort. That much has remained true through the opening month of the season, as Winslow has done the blue collar work for the Duke Blue Devils. Mike Krzyzewski has the luxury of being able to switch him and Amile Jefferson on ball screens, feeling very comfortable with Winslow guarding taller players in the post and boxing them out. He is listed even bigger than he was with Team USA in the summer, growing from six-foot-six and 221 pounds to six-foot-seven and 229 pounds.
Winslow is actually logging a portion of his minutes as a small-ball power forward with Marshall Plumlee at center when Jefferson and Jahlil Okafor go to the bench for rest. He does good work helping the team protect the glass, showing the willingness to get physical bodying up bigger players. His rebounding rate doesn’t emphasize that, yet for good reason — Okafor, Jefferson and Plumlee are vacuum cleaners collecting misses. He has guarded very few pick-and-rolls as a big man but did well against Michigan State, looking in control of his responsibilities by dropping back to protect the lane.
Winslow’s huge frame for a wing doesn’t mean he is in a quickness disadvantage on the perimeter. He is not a factor playing the passing lane to generate turnovers and didn’t close out on Wisconsin’s shooters with the short range speed expected of an athlete his caliber. Nevertheless, his individual on-ball defense is probably the best of any player likely to declare for next year’s draft. Winslow has shown great lateral mobility to keep pace with smaller players in isolation, core strength to contain dribble penetration through contact, and the length to challenge shots at the rim. Duke is allowing just 89.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, per Basketball Reference.
Winslow doesn’t do much ball-handling within Duke’s motion offense but has had chances to create shots by bringing the ball up the court in semi-transition or running side pick-and-rolls off baseline inbounds. Duke also runs a play that gets him the ball at the top of key for a middle pick-and-roll with Plumlee. Winslow has proven himself as a very willing passer on the move and has flashed some really nice instincts passing out of dribble penetration, assisting on 12 percent of Duke’s baskets when he’s been on the floor. But he is a lousy pull-up shooter at this point, missing 16 of his 18 mid-range jump-shots, according to Hoop Math.
Off the catch, Winslow has been a far more capable three-point shooter than he was in the summer, when he often opted for putting the ball on the floor even when left wide open. He is only mostly an average open-shot shooter at this point but his mechanics look quite good on makes — solid balance, off-arm pointed up, elbows flexing, wrist flicking and great arc on his shot. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of getting him to elevate off the ground with some consistency and making sure he releases at the highest point. There’s good reason to think he’ll be a fine shooter eventually, though. He has hit a decent 36.4 percent of his 33 three-point attempts, with all 12 of his makes assisted.
By hitting the open shot at a decent clip, Winslow is forcing opponents to close out on him with some urgency and taking advantage of them on straight line drives. Duke isolates him in the post against noticeably smaller wings from time to time, usually by running a simple play where Okafor handles at the high post and hits Winslow diving to the front of the rim for an easy catch-and-finish. He is able to play above the rim as a target for lobs but we haven’t seen much of that at Duke so far. Only eight of his 26 scores at the rim have been assisted, with only five coming on putbacks.
Winslow is mostly getting to the basket off the bounce. His handle is okay, though he struggles when forced right. He is averaging three turnovers per 40 minutes as a result. However, few players at the college level can keep him in front after his first step, and Winslow has show great balance and touch finishing against length, shooting 70.3 percent at the rim on 37 attempts. That force attacking the basket has also translated into 7.3 foul shots per 40 minutes, but Winslow hasn’t shown the same improvement he does from beyond the arc, missing 20 of his 48 free throws at this point. The issue seems to be the follow through; he will often move that off-arm down rather than keep it pointed up.
Because of the free throw misses and the merely average three-point shooting, Winslow hasn’t been as positive a presence on Duke’s offense as his diverse skill-set should allow him to be. He has the second lowest offensive rating on the team among the rotation players, only marginally better than Rasheed Sulaimon’s, who is also struggling with his three-point shooting.