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Justise Winslow - Future Sixer?

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With the two picks from Miami and Oklahoma City unlikely to convey this year, the Sixers only need to focus on their own pick in the draft. Let’s take a look at the players most likely to be drafted there.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Let's talk draft. With the early-entry list mostly solidified (international players may still withdraw), we can begin to truly focus on the players Hinkie might select in the 2015 NBA Draft. Unfortunately, speculation has become far less exciting given how unlikely it is that the Miami and Oklahoma City picks will convey, but it also means that we can zero in on the players most likely to be in Philadelphia next year.

Karl-Anthony Towns is the best player in this draft. If the Sixers find themselves in position to select him—either by winning the lottery or by the sheer luck of having him fall—Hinkie would be best-served to snatch him up. However, it is far more likely for that not to be the case. Towns will probably come off the board first or second, and the Sixers are most likely to be picking third, fourth, or fifth, putting him slightly out of the range at which they can acquire him.

Picking at those spots, there are three players whom I see Hinkie as most likely to choose, assuming all three are available. Justise Winslow, D'Angelo Russell, and Mario Hezonja all have the talent to be the best player available when the Sixers are on the clock, but they also fit this team—not only in terms of positions of need, but more importantly in terms of philosophy. All three provide basketball skills that are highly valued by the organization, and by other organizations similar to the Sixers. So let's take an in-depth look at all three of them and decide for ourselves whom we like best.

(Note: This is not to say that the Sixers will be uninterested in other players. It remains a real possibility that Emmanuel Mudiay or Kristaps Porzingis have their names read when the Sixers pick on June 25. I just find these to be the three most probable players.)

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The 2015 draft has been intriguing all year because, for the first time in almost a decade, it is stocked with high-ceiling wing players. Coming into the season, DraftExpress and ESPN had four wings grouped in the 8-12 range, with little separating them. As the year progressed, each of Stanley Johnson, Kelly Oubre, Justise Winslow, and Mario Hezonja took turns in poll position. Now that the season has ended, it's clear who belongs in the conversation at the top of the draft. Winslow has fully separated himself from the other collegiate players, solidifying his position as the domestic wing with the highest two-way ceiling and floor.

Winslow's attractiveness as a prospect begins with his physical tools. DraftExpress has his most recent measurements at 6'6 without shoes, 230 pounds, and sporting a 6'10 wingspan. While 6'6 is on the short side for a small forward, it is taller than average for a shooting guard. Players tend to be about an inch taller with shoes, which would put Winslow at comfortably average for a small forward. At a chiseled 230, his body is physically ready for the stronger players in the NBA.

Winslow is also one of the most athletic players in the draft. Of the four elite wing players, he is by far the most explosive athlete. His athleticism and strength allowed him to guard 4 positions at the college level, from point guard to power forward.

Player

Points

Rebounds

Assists

Stocks

FT%

3Pt FG%

Justise Winslow

17.3

8.9

2.9

3

64.1

41.8

Mario Hezonja

15.5

5.1

3.1

1.8

76.7

39.5

Stanley Johnson

19.4

9.2

2.4

2.7

74.2

37.1

Kelly Oubre

17.7

9.5

1.5

2.9

71.8

35.8

Compared to his compatriots, his statistics per 40 minutes don't jump off the page. He's clearly a strong player, especially for a freshman, but he doesn't separate himself from the other three. The key to understanding Winslow's supremacy is to look at his improvement over the course of the season, specifically his body of work after January 30, when Coach K dismissed Rasheed Sulaimon from the team. It's unclear why Winslow made a leap after Sulaimon's dismissal, but the numbers, based on a full 18 games, tell a very clear story.

Player

Points

Rebounds

Assists

Stocks

FT%

3Pt FG%

Justise Winslow

18.4

10.9

3.1

3.8

69

48.7

Every single relevant statistic improved after Sulaimon's dismissal. While some of that can be attributed to Duke's change in tactics, Winslow's play began to improve 3 weeks before Krzyzewski moved Matt Jones into the starting lineup for Amile Jefferson. This suggests that the catalyst for Winslow's upswing was a recovery from niggling injuries to his ribs and shoulder. We should likely accept that, while some of the efficiency improvements may be due to noise, Winslow's second half statistics skew more closely to the player that he truly is. And that is an impressive player.

The biggest knock on Winslow is his ability to score. Few seem to think he has the skill set to be able to evolve into a first or second option on offense. DraftExpress's Jonathon Givony wrote, "The biggest question marks about Winslow revolve around how prolific a scorer he will become at the NBA level. Is he better suited as being a third or fourth option, or can he develop into someone who can shoulder a heavier load?" The flags on Winslow's offensive ability are his 26.1% shooting on 2-point jump shots, per hoop-math.com, and a game that is overly reliant on physically overwhelming his defender. However, if we look at both of those matters a little more closely, they are less worrisome than when taken at face value.

Hoop-math's 2-pt FG% is a great way of learning more about a player. However, the percentage alone is less informative than we like to think. We should really be considering what those percentages tell us about how his shots are created and converted. The vast majority of those shots were off the dribble jumpers, rather than spot-up attempts. While Winslow shot poorly in these instances, he excelled from behind the arc, the majority of which were spot-ups. In other words, Winslow struggles off the bounce, but shows promise as a spot-up shooter. He doesn't inexplicably become worse when he moves in from the 3-point line, he just becomes understandably worse when he has to beat his defender one-on-one and is unable to get to the basket.

He is a smarter driver than he is typically given credit for, too. Dean Demakis, of deanondraft.com, hypothesized last year that players who were able to consistently score unassisted FG's at the rim generally would see their skill set translate well to the NBA. This was corroborated by Jordan Clarkson's surprisingly successful rookie season (among others); Clarkson had led the NCAA in UA FG's at the rim last season. By considering only half-court FGA's and removing offensive rebounding opportunities, Demakis was able to glean how frequently a player's drives result in a successful shot at the rim. While he doesn't grade as outstanding in that respect, Winslow sits comfortably in the top half of prospects in this metric, at 1.06 unassisted rim field goals per 40 minutes. Considering his age, and that the top three players Dumakis analyzed were upperclassmen, it is more impressive than it appears at first glance. Stanley Johnson and Kelly Oubre, meanwhile, pale in comparison.

Player

UA Rim FG

Minutes

UA Rim FG / 40

Justise Winslow

30

1135

1.06

Stanley Johnson

13

1081

0.48

Kelly Oubre

7

756

0.37

In each case, Winslow scored more than twice as many baskets per 40 minutes. He also grades better than Andrew Wiggins, Aaron Gordon, and Marcus Smart did the year before, all of whom were selected in the top 6. For a player who is allegedly unskilled, Winslow is very clever at utilizing a eurostep to get to the rim. Combined with his burst of a first step and overpowering strength, you can see that he is quite capable. His body control and fluid footwork are on display in this highlight reel.watch.0.html

Here, too, at 1:58.

So Winslow's offensive profile shows him to be strong finishing at the hoop in transition and the halfcourt, a surprisingly strong 3-point shooter, and a poor mid-range shooter off the dribble. In other words, he's a perfect player for the modern NBA, in which shots at the rim and 3-pointers are highly valued, but 2-point jumpers are not. Moreover, in Brett Brown's Embiid-centric offense, predicated on ball- and player-movement, Winslow's strengths should be emphasized, while his weaknesses should be minimized.

Winslow may never be a first option on offense, but it seems likely that he would at least grow into a second option in a system like Brown's, and he brings many positives elsewhere. Assuming this, the only real question mark becomes shot. Winslow shot 42% from 3 from the season overall, and nearly 49% from his January uptick onward, but 3-point shooting percentage is a notoriously erratic statistic, and it's unclear what his true shooting ability may be. He struggled from the free throw line early in the season, before shooting a more respectable 69% during the second half. If we are to believe that this is a more accurate reflection of his shooting ability, then it becomes a bit more of a yellow flag for Winslow. That said, it is clear, that he is not a complete non-shooter. 110 3-point attempts is not an enormous sample size, but it's about as large of one as you can hope for from a college wing player, and he shot very well from that distance. Given Brown's past success with players in both the Spurs' and Sixers' organization, I think it is reasonable to expect him to turn Winslow into a league-average shooter.

If there are holes in Winslow's offense, there are almost none in his defense. Unlike Stanley Johnson, he is quick enough to stay in front of smaller perimeter players; unlike Kelly Oubre, he's big enough to bang with bigger players. Duke played outstanding defense this season, and it was almost entirely because of Winslow. He was surrounded by Jahlil Okafor, Quinn Cook, and Tyus Jones on the perimeter, all three of whom were generally poor defensive players. Yet by the end of the season, Duke ranked 12th nationally in defense, according to KenPom; this was due, largely, to Winslow's prowess on that end. He was an incredible on-ball defender and strong weak-side defender as well. He never gives up on plays, frequently contributing LeBron-esque chase down blocks.

Whenever the Sixers' team-building philosophy comes up, I always return to the same quote. At his press conference following the trade deadline this season, Hinkie elaborated on his view of defense, saying, "We like players that play on both ends. We like players who care about both ends. It is half the game. It might be more." And then repeating, for emphasis, "It might be more." Brett Brown consistently corroborates this thinking. When asked at the end of the season what the biggest need for improvement was in the team, Brown answered, "I want desperately to say we have to improve our offense because it stands out statistically. But in my heart of hearts I know we have to build on our defense. That's who we are...I can't get tricked. This thing will always be about defense."

Given the mindset both of these important contributors share about defense, it seems foolish to dismiss the possibility that Winslow could be the Sixers' selection, even if they are picking as high as 3. Winslow is easily the best defensive perimeter prospect (with the possible exception of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson), and his offensive game is farther along than his reputation suggests. Building a team based around two elite frontcourt defenders in Noel and Embiid plus an elite perimeter defender in Winslow seems to dovetail with Hinkie's philosophy. If Winslow winds up attempting to cram a 76ers' hat over his mini-afro on June 25, don't be surprised. Be excited. The Sixers will have gained a fantastic talent.