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Duke’s Justise Winslow Quickly Climbing up Draft Boards

Duke’s Justise Winslow is finally starting to get the recognition he deserves from an NBA Draft standpoint.

Yannis Koutroupis

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The first names that come up when talking about the 2015 NBA Draft are typically Jahlil Okafor of Duke, Emmanuel Mudiay from China and Karl-Anthony Towns of Kentucky – and rightfully so. Okafor is the most skilled low-post big men to come along since DeMarcus Cousins, Mudiay is so dynamic with the ball in his hands that he is making over a million dollars to play professionally, and there’s nothing the seven foot Towns can’t do offensively. Those who are familiar with the international game will also talk about Mario Hezonja and Kristaps Porzingis, two guys who would have certainly been first round picks in the 2014 NBA Draft. Also, Arizona’s Stanley Johnson will come up from time to time as well because of his versatility and history of winning.

Far too often, Duke’s Justise Winslow is left out of the discussion, but that is quickly starting to change with how well he is playing early on for the Blue Devils. This is more about Winslow finally getting the national credit he deserves from a draft standpoint than any significant improvements he’s made, because he’s been one of the most dominant high school basketball players over the last four years. A four-year letterwinner at Saint John’s in Houston, Winslow scored over 3,200 points in his career and hauled in 1,708 rebounds. He took home the Gatorade Texas Player of the Year award twice, earned a spot on the McDonald’s All-American team as well as the Jordan Brand Classic team and went 94-48 overall in high school, including two league titles.

Internationally, Winslow already has three gold medals in his trophy case from the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship, 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship and 2014 Americas U18 championship.

Yet, he was only ranked as a top-10 recruit by one national outlet. Whether it was because of questions about his offensive abilities or position at the next level, Winslow had his detractors. But, they’re starting to be few and far between as he climbs up draft boards in rapid fashion.

A young freshman who won’t turn 19 until March, Winslow was last officially measured at 6’7, 229 lbs. He doesn’t just look like a professional either, he carries himself like one. Winslow is very mature for his age and has poise well beyond his years.

He’s playing 28 minutes a night for Coach K and averaging 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and just under a steal and block a game.

The numbers don’t tell the entire story, though, as good as they are. Winslow is cut from the same cloth as former Indiana product and now Orlando Magic starting guard Victor Oladipo. He doesn’t take plays off, always asserting maximum effort and intensity. He also relishes the opportunity to defend the opposing team’s best player. Whether it be a point guard, shooting guard, small forward or power forward, if Coach K wants to slow a player down, he’s going to give the assignment to Winslow. Winslow is the kind of player who has Dec. 3’s matchup at Wisconsin, Dec. 18’s at Connecticut and all of the other big games with high-profile matchups circled on his calendar for months. He loves being on the biggest stage and proving himself against the best.

Offensively is where his game has improved the most over the last couple of years. You can no longer say that Winslow is just stronger and more athletic than the competition he faced in high school. He’s become quite skilled and just as versatile on that end of the floor as he is on the defensive end. Winslow is shooting 47 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond. He’s also getting to the line seven times nightly, but that is one of the areas of his game that could be criticized, as he’s only converting at a 61 percent rate right now.

There are a lot of talented players at the small forward position who are eligible for the 2015 NBA Draft. The aforementioned Johnson is one of the few players whose résumé rivals Winslow’s and he’s equally as strong, defensive minded and competitive. Kelly Oubre from Kansas has a really devastating offensive game and is blessed with great size and length for his position. Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will also end up being first-round picks, assuming they declare, but whatever team is looking for a small forward first on draft night 2015 is going to have a really hard time picking any one of them over Winslow.

When pinpointing an NBA comparison for Winslow, there are a few guys who come to mind. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the number two overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, has been thrown around a lot. However, he also has a lot of Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng in him, plus he’s a much better shooter than Kidd-Gilchrist was coming out of Kentucky, where he wasn’t a threat from beyond 15 feet whatsoever. Even though Winslow’s still improving in that aspect of his game, he’s leaps and bounds ahead of Kidd-Gilchrist, even now that he’s recreated his jump shot with the help of the Charlotte Hornets coaching staff.

What Winslow and Kidd-Gilchrist could have in common, though, is going second behind their own teammate on draft night. When Kidd-Gilchrist was picked behind Anthony Davis in 2012 it was the first time a pair of teammates went No. 1 and No. 2 overall. Okafor and Winslow have a great chance to accomplish the same feat. It’s going to be hard for Winslow to surpass Okafor simply because he’s such a rarity; true centers who can score with their backs to the basket have become hard to come by and Okafor’s offensive game is already more polished than about 90 percent of the centers currently in the NBA. After Okafor, though, there may not be a more complete player who is ready to contribute from day one like Winslow. He may have been under-ranked in high school and over analyzed by his critics, but there’s no denying now that when talking about the 2015 NBA Draft, Winslow belongs in the discussion with the elite of the elite.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau

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Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Winners

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

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Insiders Video

VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Losers

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

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