Justise Winslow has never had a Publix sub.
The Heat’s do-it-all youngster, who was last seen getting in the faces (or facemasks) of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, has never enjoyed one of Florida’s signature culinary delicacies in his three years in Miami. Going on his fourth season in the NBA, Winslow does at least admit to appreciating the South Florida weather—specifically returning from a winter road trip to a 75-degree evening.
Even if Winslow isn’t maximizing his potential sandwich-wise, the former No. 10 overall pick is starting to do so on the court, showing in his most recent postseason what made him a widely coveted lottery pick. Against the 76ers, Winslow was arguably the Heat’s best two-way player, aggressively defending Simmons while finding his three-point stroke on the offensive end.
“That’s the highest level of basketball,” Winslow told The Crossover when asked why playoff experience is important for players early in their career. “That’s when you reveal the type of player you are, the type of competitor you are. It’s those moments that you want to play in. Everyone is watching when you’re in the playoffs. The attention is on you. You get to see what you’re made of. Close games, crunch time, you see what type of competitive character you’ve built up.”
There was certainly no doubting Winslow’s competitive character late last season, when his game seemed to flourish as a part-time point guard and full-time defensive menace. The Crossover caught up with Winslow in late July to discuss playoff lessons, his relationship with Dwyane Wade, and more.
Rohan Nadkarni: It looked like you were playing with a new confidence during the playoffs. How did it feel to have your game come together in that moment?
Justise Winslow: It felt good. As a competitor in this league, that’s where you want to be. The way I play, my style of game, my physicality, my aggressiveness, I think it’s really built for playoff basketball. The refs let you play a little bit more. The fact that I’m a two-way player, it’s hard to scheme a guy like me off the court. I love it, I love the big stage. I enjoy everything about it, the road games, the crazy fans, it’s a good time.
RN: You had some memorable exchanges with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid during that series. What brought that out of you?
JW: Nothing, we were just competing. It was fun. All the guys, we were trash talking. Just being competitors. Honestly, I think everyone enjoyed it. All the fans, at the end of the day it’s just fun. It brings the best out of us as players. It was never anything personal. You’re just trying to give your opponent your best shot. Whether it’s trying to get in their head or hitting a big shot or blocking a shot, that was a lot of fun.
RN: Have you been working on any specific aspects of your game this summer?
JW: Really a lot of shooting. Long and mid-range. Trying to become a more balanced scorer. A lot of ball-handling. I did play a good amount of point guard last year. I’m trying to get better in all aspects of my game and just go from there.
RN: Some of the Heat’s best units were when you were playing point guard. Do you enjoy playing that position and do you want to do it more in the future?
JW: I really enjoy it. I’m an unselfish guy so I’m always looking for ways to get my teammates involved. Just having the ball in my hands and trying to make plays for others is something that’s come naturally. I like to be on the court and have some control over the game, facilitate. It’s a part of my DNA.
RN: Did Spo pull you aside and tell you that you would be handling the ball more? How did you end up playing more guard?
JW: I had the ball in my hands my first couple years in the league. I think knowing our team and our personnel it was the best place to put me and help the team win. We have a lot of shooters and a lot of players who can play off the ball, but we needed the proper spacing and the right organization to put them in places to be successful. Over the course of the year, Spo started to trust me more and more to bring the ball up, call plays and get people organized. I like the responsibility.
RN: Has the organization ever put pressure on you to improve your outside shooting? Or do you take that upon yourself?
JW: I take it upon myself. I understand the game and how important spacing is. I want to be a good shooter not only for myself, but for my teammates. I want to create more space for them, and if my man is sagging off of me it can prevent that. I’m working at it constantly everyday, envisioning myself knocking down shots. Watching film. It’s been a process, but I like the progress I’ve made so far.
RN: Have you been thinking about your contract extension at all? Is that something on your mind?
JW: Honestly, not really. I’m just trying to be the best player I can be and keep working out. I’m happy in Miami. I’m sure we’ll figure something out whether it’s this fall or next summer. I’m not in any rush. I’m in constant communication with the front office and coach. I’m not stressed about it. I’m just trying to work out this summer, have fun and be ready for next season.
RN: The team seemed to have a new energy last season when Dwyane Wade returned. What’s your relationship like with him?
JW: It’s great. There’s been some ups and downs. When he first got to the team, he looked out for me, kind of like a big brother. There was some animosity when he left for Chicago, I remember that first game it got kind of heated between us. Now everything is great. He’s a big brother to me. He’s invited me to hang out, help me on my game, watch film. He’s a stand-up guy, it’s been a blessing to play alongside him and learn from him.
RN: What happened when he went to Chicago?
JW: It’s basketball, we’re still competitors. There was a little tension. But I mean, we squashed it. We’re grown men. We’re both doing what we love. It wasn’t anything major. We just had to figure some things out between us.
RN: The Heat played really well when you, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo shared the court. What’s the secret to the success there?
JW: Really enjoying your teammates and really getting along with your teammates goes a long way. And I think for us, as young guys, we’re kind of forced to hang out on the road, look after each other, make sure we get our shots up, that sort of thing. It’s not that I don’t like my other teammates, but the young guys especially, we have a close group, a fun group. We all get along off the court, hang out, I think that plays a major role in how we play on the court.
RN: I know you mostly hang out with the young guys, but is James Johnson as intense as he seems? Have you ever seen him break out his karate moves?
JW: He’s a chill dude. He’s intense on the court. He’ll trash talk, get in your face. Off the court, he’s a great father, a fun person to be around. I’ve never seen him bust out his MMA stuff or do karate moves. I don’t know how good he is, but I’m not messing with him. That’s for sure.
RN:He says he can roundhouse kick the rim.
JW: I’ve seen him do that before. Yeah, it was definitely impressive. Definitely hard to do.