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.
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