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Can Justise Winslow Win Rookie Of The Year?

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The Miami Heat recently got what a lot of people would call the steal of the draft by drafting rookie guard/forward Justise Winslow with the 10th overall pick this past summer, especially since he was expected to be picked by Denver with the 7th overall pick. After not making the playoffs last season, the Winslow pick-up was the best start for the Heat offseason. Miami did have a lot of issues with injuries, where Josh McRoberts tore his meniscus, Dwyane Wade missed 20 games to rest, but was relatively injury free, and All Star forward Chris Bosh had a life-threatening blood clot in his lung. But a big question for the Heat is if Justice Winslow can be more than just a role player for them and potentially win the Rookie of the Year award.

Next season’s projected starting lineup for Miami has Luol Deng starting at the small forward position, which might affect Winslow’s chances to play a lot of minutes. Deng played 72 games in his first season with Miami and averaged 33.6 minutes of playing time all year, which leaves about 15 available minutes next season for Winslow if Deng plays the same amount this year. Winslow’s minutes won’t just come at the small forward position since he can also play the shooting guard position, which could allow him to be another solid backup for Dwyane Wade aside from Gerald Green and Tyler Johnson). Wade’s health has been a recurring issue for the Miami Heat since he started to suffer knee injuries in recent years, but last season Wade was able to play 62 games (his most since the 2012-2013 season when he played 69) while averaging 31.8 minutes per game.

Now we could see Winslow probably playing 20 to 25 minutes per game next season, which is a nice amount of playing time but still feels like it’s not enough. Last year’s Rookie of the year Andrew Wiggins averaged 36.2 minutes per game, and put up 16.9 points per game, 4.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in all 82 games (also he played all of them as a starter). Winslow averaged 12.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists playing 29 minutes per game in all the 39 games he played in Duke; but his real challenge will be to put up those same numbers in less than 30 minutes per game in the NBA while trying to be more consistent as it is reported to be his greater weakness. If you ask me, many other high level rookies will get the chance to start for their teams like Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, Kristaps Porzingis in New York, D’Angelo Russell in L.A., Emmanuel Mudiay in Denver, and Jahlil Okafor in Philadelphia. Since most of them will surely be playing lots of minutes, Winslow’s chances of winning Rookie of the Year as a bench player are not that great (unless he comes up as a starter in the wake of an extended injury to one of the Heat’s starters). On the other hand, Justise can still aim for another season ending award, as he could become the Sixth Man of the year.

The only time a Sixth Man award was given to a rookie it was in the 2004-2005 NBA season, when Ben Gordon won the award while playing with the Chicago Bulls averaging 15.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists while shooting 41% from the field, 86% from the line, and 40% from three. He played in all 82 games, only started in 3 of them, and averaged 24.4 minutes per game that year). Looking at these stats, we could really see Winslow putting up numbers like that and being a front runner for the award. Also we must not forget that Gerald Green would also come off the bench for the Heat as a scorer and key backup, but it will all depend on the minutes given to each player (which ends up being a decision of the Erik Spolestra and coaching staff himself) and how they perform during games.

Winslow hasn’t played a single NBA game yet, but he’s still expected to one of the best players in this year’s draft class. His chances to shine and prove himself as a probable future star in the league are not the best right now as he’s projected to come off the bench, but we can surely expect that even if he’s not playing as a starter, he can bring a real spark to the Miami Heat now and maybe for years to come.