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Miami Heat Select Justise Winslow With No. 10 Pick in the 2015 Draft

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The foundation of the Miami Heat’s future championship aspirations rests largely on the shoulders of point guard Goran Dragic and center Hassan Whiteside.

Dragic loves to attack the basket. He’s an aggressive guard who keeps defenders backpedalling as he slashes to the rim. He has excellent body control and does a tremendous job of slipping past defenders and finishing through contact. He is the only guard in the NBA to have shot better than 50 percent from the field in each of the last two seasons. If the defense collapses to stop him, he is just as likely to hit his corner three-point shooters as he is his roll-man on the pick-and-roll or a big man down low.

Whiteside has become the poster child of a fan base seeking out hope for the future. He has rewarded us all with boundless energy, youthful exuberance, and quick ascent. In his limited time last season, Whiteside rampaged through the NBA with reckless abandon, utilizing his massive 7-foot-7-inch wingspan to throw down monstrous alley-oop dunks, snatch rebounds out of the sky from high above the rim, swat basketballs as Godzilla would planes, and generally wreak havoc on both ends of the floor. His skill in the pick-and-roll and on the glass is undeniable. But his potential extends far beyond that. His low-post game, his ability to make the right pass when the situation calls for it and his overall feel for the game are all still developing, and have the potential to make him one of the elite low-post scorers in the whole of the NBA.

Dragic and Whiteside figure to become focal points of the Heat offense for years to come. They figure to be highly successful in plying their trade, but only if they have the floor space with which to do so. Whiteside needs it to maneuver freely down low. Dragic needs it to create clear driving lanes for himself and open looks for others. 

Floor-spacing is a critical determinant of success in today’s NBA. The best teams have it. The not so good ones don’t.

Take a look at the two best teams in each conference from last season. In the west, the Golden State Warriors may have the best three-point shooting backcourt in NBA history. The San Antonio Spurs may have the best floor spacing in NBA history. In the east, the Cleveland Cavaliers always have at least three three-point shooters hovering around LeBron James. And the Atlanta Hawks typically have four or even five such shooters on the court.

Those four teams: Each among the top five in three-point shooting last season. The Heat? 24th!

The Heat need players who can knock down open outside shots when Dragic and Whiteside collapse the defense. Chris Bosh is an ideal fit in such an approach. Luol Deng is passable(1). But Dwyane Wade isn’t. For as talented as a Dragic-Wade-Deng-Bosh-Whiteside starting rotation might appear, it is not all that difficult to imagine why they might struggle.

In that respect, 6-foot, 6-inch Kentucky shooting guard Devin Booker was seemingly an ideal fit. While there were players in the draft who might have bigger overall impacts, no one player had a skill more tailor-made for his team than would have been Booker’s elite three-point shooting for the Heat. Such spectacular shooting would simply not allow the opposition to consistently clog the paint, freeing up space for Dragic and Whiteside to capitalize.

Booker was, quite simply, the best shooter in the draft. His tremendous mechanics and his quick, smooth and high release suggest it will transition well to the pro game. But he’s also a deceptive athlete and playmaker, as well as a solid defender. He helped his draft stock during agility testing in the combine, coming away with the fastest lane agility score of any player in attendance. Part of Booker’s allure is not only his ability to be an impact shooter immediately but also his potential to become a complete two-way player in time. Another part is his age. Booker was the youngest player to register for the draft (he won’t turn 19 years old until Oct. 30), a fact that belies his maturity.

Pat Riley seemed to agree.

“A great, great meeting,” Booker said of the face time he received with Riley at the combine. “It’s humbling. He said D-Wade is getting older now, is on the last part of his career, and come and learn from him. And I thought that would be a great fit for me and I’m willing to learn from all veterans, especially one of the best two-guards to ever play the game. So I think that would be a great fit for myself.”

That an 18-year-old Booker could have cracked the rotation, let alone taken the place of Wade in the Heat’s starting lineup, at least to start the season, is simply not realistic. But it wasn’t all that difficult to project during Wade’s maintenance rest days as the season progresses, and certainly not in the years that follow.

It wasn’t all that difficult to imagine the potential that could have been unlocked with the perfect symmetry of an inside-outside backcourt combination of Dragic and Booker along with the perfect symmetry of an inside-outside frontcourt combination of Whiteside and Bosh, particularly when the Heat could potentially have tons of cap space to search for a long-term solution at small forward in the summer of 2016. The only question was whether or not Booker would remain on the board for the Heat at pick No. 10. Most had him off the board no later than to the shooting-starved Charlotte Hornets at No. 9.

When the Detroit Pistons selected Arizona forward Stanley Johnson at No. 8, it became apparent that the Heat would have a good night. Not only was Booker still on the board, but also, shockingly, Duke swingman Justise Winslow, who had been projected by many to go as high as No. 5. The Heat would be assured one of the two.

When the Hornets selected Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsty at No. 9, the Heat had their choice between Booker and Winslow. They chose Winslow.

Winslow’s fall was so unexpected that Riley’s first words ever uttered to him were spoken over the phone after he was drafted. The versatile swingman never even worked out for the Heat. But he is a Riley kind of guy. Riley loves tough, athletic players who get it done on both ends of the floor. At 6-feet, 6-inches, Winslow is a gritty driver of the basketball, a strong rebounder, and a great defender. He has star potential.

Winslow can play either shooting guard or small forward for the Heat, and that versatility should give the Heat depth behind both Wade and Deng. Of course, things change drastically if either Wade or Deng leaves the Heat during free agency. Neither has indicated if he is returning to Miami next season.

If Wade doesn’t return, Winslow could be thrust into the starting lineup at shooting guard. If Deng leaves, Winslow could become the Heat’s starting small forward. Wade and Deng have until midnight on Monday to opt into the final year of their contracts. Wade has said that he will instead become a free agent, but it is likely he will re-sign with the Heat. Deng hasn’t given any clues about his decision, but it is likely he will exercise his option. The uncertainty adds intrigue to Thursday’s draft selection.

Also adding to the intrigue are the comparisons between Winslow and Booker.

In his lone season at Duke, Winslow attempted 110 three-pointers and made them at a 41.8 percent clip which, quite frankly, is elite for a college player, better even than Booker’s 41.1 percent conversion rate on his 141 attempts. But Winslow’s ratio seems to belie his true ability. He has a slow, flat release with inconsistent mechanics that does not figure to translate well to the deeper NBA three-point line. Of his 110 three-point attempts, 52 were from 24 feet or more, and he shot just 31 percent on those attempts. He also shot just 29.9 percent on three-point attempts during his four years of high school.

Winslow certainly may improve in that regard but, unlike Booker, figures to have limited desire or ability to develop into that type of player whose passion it is to hunt three-point shots and, with his deadly precision, strike fear into the heart of his opponents in a way that would create space for his teammates. In that respect, despite the perceived higher ceiling for Winslow, Booker may well have been the better fit for the Heat organization.

Did the Heat make the right decision?

But the intrigue doesn’t stop there.

As the draft night drama unfolded, the Boston Celtics, desperate for Winslow, offered Miami (and Charlotte beforehand) what appears to have been a ridiculous number of draft picks for the Heat to move off their selection: four first-rounders and two second-rounders!

The first-round picks included: Atlanta’s No. 15 pick (which would have been acquired by Boston in a prearranged contingency deal with the Hawks)(2), Boston’s own No. 16 pick, an unprotected 2016 first-round pick from the Brooklyn Nets)(3), and a choice between a first-rounder from either the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2016 or Memphis Grizzlies in 2018 (the Heat would likely have chosen the Memphis pick)(4).

The composition of the two second-round picks is unknown, but likely included a return of Miami’s own 2016 second-round pick, which the Heat surrendered to the Celtics in the Joel Anthony trade in January 2014.

The Celtics’ apparent lunacy became an even more intriguing prospect for the Heat when viewed in context.

Miami’s stockpile of future first-round picks is severely depleted. The Heat owe a future first-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers (likely in 2016) from the LeBron James sign-and-trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers in July 2010, as well as a pair of future first-round picks to the Phoenix Suns (likely in 2018 and 2021) from last season’s acquisition of the Dragic brothers. That leaves the Heat with no first-round draft picks in 2016, 2018 and 2021. And, by virtue of the Ted Stepien rule (which states that a team cannot trade all of its first-round picks in consecutive future seasons) and the Seven Year Rule (which states that draft picks can be traded no more than seven years into the future), Miami does not currently have a single future first-round draft pick in its possession that can be offered in trade.

Miami’s stockpile of future second-round picks is also severely depleted. The Heat owe their aforementioned 2016 second-round pick to the Celtics, a top-40 protected second-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks (likely in 2017) from the James Ennis draft-night acquisition in June 2013, and a 2019 second-round pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves from the draft-night acquisition of Shabazz Napier from the Charlotte Hornets in June 2014(5). That leaves the Heat with no second-round draft picks in 2016, 2017 and 2019(5). And, by virtue of the Seven Year Rule, Miami’s only second-round picks available for trade would be a conditional pick in 2018 and unconditional picks all the way out in 2020, 2021, and 2022(5).

This one trade could have near perfectly fixed the Heat’s first-round draft pick gaps – replacing the Heat’s 2015 pick with two picks a few slots down, replacing the Heat’s 2016 pick (likely to be sent to Philadelphia) with an even better pick from Brooklyn, and replacing the Heat’s 2018 pick (likely to be sent to Phoenix) with a pick from Memphis.

It also could have near perfectly fixed the Heat’s second-round draft pick gaps – replacing two of the three surrendered(5), including a potential return of the Heat’s own 2016 pick.

That’s a whole heck of a lot of picks for just one player.

Would you have made that deal for Winslow?

The Heat had less than five minutes to decide. They rejected.

Was it the right decision?

The Heat may not have even considered it. They may have deemed Winslow’s value to be too great.

Or they may have dismissed it for a variety of reasons, among them that the summer of 2016 cap space required for pick Nos. 15 and 16 in 2015 ($3.9 million) and an as yet undetermined pick from Brooklyn in 2016 was far too great versus just keeping Winslow ($3.7 million, including the two extra roster charges). The Heat, after all, have big plans for the summer of 2016, and every dollar of cap space counts. Accepting the Celtics’ offer could have shaved more than $2 million off the total if the Heat were to use the Nets’ 2016 pick (the exact amount depends upon where it winds up).

Accepting the offer also meant having to find roster spots for both of this year’s first-round picks (Nos. 15 and 16), in addition to second-round pick Josh Richardson. That’s up to three spots for a team for which such spots figure to be tight. Teams can only employ a total of 15 heading into the regular season. The Heat already have 11 players with guaranteed contracts (including Whiteside), and that’s before considering Tyler Johnson (a virtual roster guarantee), James Ennis or free agency additions.

But here’s where things get really interesting.

Do you think the Indiana Pacers would have traded their No. 11 pick in exchange for the No. 15 and the No. 16 pick (and perhaps up to two future second-round picks if necessary)(6)? The Pacers were reportedly open to such trade scenarios, were realistic about the value of their pick, had “four to five” players on their wish list, and would have had the opportunity to trade one pick for two just a few slots down. For perspective, the Denver Nuggets last year traded their No. 11 pick to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for a package that included the No. 16 pick, No. 19 pick and one low-level 2015 second-round pick.

It is an intriguing question because with the Heat knowing that the Celtics were angling for Winslow with their No. 10 pick, the Heat by default also knew that Booker was still to be available at No. 11. The Heat, therefore, as a condition to accepting the Celtics’ offer, could have attempted to strike a prearranged deal with Indiana for pick No. 11, and used it to select Booker(2).

If for some reason you feel the Pacers would have rejected, then ask yourself this:

Do you think either the Utah Jazz, with pick No. 12, or the Phoenix Suns, who ultimately selected Booker with pick No. 13, would have traded their pick to the Heat in exchange for the No. 15 and the No. 16 pick (and perhaps up to two future second-round picks if necessary)(6)?

It is an equally intriguing question because, after having selected Winslow, with the additional time upon which to reflect, the Heat could have struck such a contingent deal with the Jazz or Suns pending their ability to revive the trade proposal from the Celtics, and used the pick to select Booker(2).

If your vision heading into draft night was to select Booker at No. 10, how would you feel if the Heat were able to instead select him at No. 11 (saving $427K in the process, and with it an extra $130K of summer of 2016 cap space) or at No. 12 (saving $843K in the process, and with it an extra $253K of summer of 2016 cap space) or at No. 13 (saving $1.4 million in the process, and with it an extra $370K of summer of 2016 cap space), and acquire an additional two future first-round draft picks, including a potentially valuable unprotected first-round pick from the Nets in the 2016 draft?

Imagine a long-term starting rotation for the Heat that could have featured Dragic, Booker, Bosh and Whiteside – four seemingly perfectly complementary players in an offense system designed to maximize floor spacing – with the flexibility to find a permanent solution at the small forward position either with a potentially valuable pick from Brooklyn in the 2016 NBA draft (when several elite-level small forwards are projected to come out) or with gobs of cap space the month after in free agency.

Imagine not only the potential dominance but also the potential youth of such a team — to include potential starters Booker (currently 18 years old) and Whiteside (26), potential reserve Tyler Johnson (23), and future first-round picks in each draft from 2016 to 2020 – as the Heat transitions away from its over-reliance on an aging Wade (33) and builds a sustainable on-court product for the future, one that is able to generate far better spacing and play at a far greater pace with which to capitalize upon it.

Does that intrigue you?

The Heat feel they have found a core piece for the future in Winslow. But now we have a prism through which to evaluate the Heat’s decision to draft him in the years to come:

Will he develop into the future core piece the Heat envision him to be?

Will he prove to be a better fit for the Heat organization than what could have been with Booker?

Will he be worth more to the Heat organization than Booker and what might have been with as many of the six future draft picks offered by the Celtics as the Heat could’ve kept after securing Booker in a contingent trade?

The 2015 NBA draft has created renewed hope for the post-LeBron James era in South Florida. It has also created an opportunity to wonder what might have been if things were handled differently.

Did the Heat make the right decision?

Only time will tell.

Notes:

I wrote this post in three stages (as you may be able to tell from the transitions).

I initially wrote this post on June 25, 2015 (draft night) to reflect the comparisons between Justise Winslow and Devin Booker and to acknowledge the benefits to the Heat of having selected Winslow but describe my personal preference for Booker. As such, the top half of it has not changed from the original form.

I added the bottom half on June 29, 2015 (four days later), when I found out from Dan Le Batard that the Celtics had offered the Heat the same selection of draft picks — four first rounders, including two in the mid-teens from the 2015 draft, and two second rounders – as it had offered the Hornets, to incorporate the trade idea I have herein presented, which instantly popped into my head as a means to not only secure the player I always wanted but also to leverage a ludicrous offer from the Celtics to acquire additional future first-round picks as well.

I modified the bottom half on July 28, 2015 (today), when I found out from Zach Lowe the exact draft picks the Celtics had offered the Heat, to incorporate those exact details into my trade proposition and subsequent net draft pick gain. 

The last few paragraphs of the post are largely as initially written, though I slightly modified them in each revision to accommodate the new ideas presented. 

My preference for the Heat to select Booker over Winslow has not been a popular one amongst my friends and family, who rather vehemently disagree with me. But it is my hope, even if you disagree with me, that you will consider that my approach entailed not only selecting Booker over Winslow but also acquiring multiple potentially valuable future first-round draft picks (including an unprotected first-round pick from the Nets next summer) in the process. Many people tend to dismiss the importance of draft picks. I am not one of those people.

My vision for the Heat starting rotation of the future was Dragic, Booker, Bosh and Whiteside, with the flexibility to find a permanent solution at the small forward position either with a potentially valuable pick from the Nets in the 2016 NBA Draft or with tons of cap space the month after in free agency.

My vision for the Heat bench rotation of the future has yet to be determined, but at the very least would include the vastly underrated Tyler Johnson (who is very much a part of the Heat’s long-term future) as well as a graceful transition for an aging Wade who can still provide much needed scoring punch if no longer elite-level defense.

If paired with the correct offensive scheme (I tend to strongly disagree with the system currently in place), that, to me, is as compelling a rotation as you will find anywhere in the NBA outside of Golden State, San Antonio and Cleveland, and potentially just one piece away (with some lottery luck, Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram?… and/or with some free agency cooperation from Wade, Kevin Durant?) from legitimate title contention. 

That is what I see. I hope I am wrong. I hope Winslow becomes such a big star that I will never again consider what the Heat elected to pass up to get him. But I have my doubts that this team will be able to shoot three-pointers with a high degree of efficiency, and as such create the necessary floor space through which Dragic and Whiteside can maneuver, and as such be able to score. 

(1) Luol Deng shot an impressive 43.5 percent on corner three-pointers last season. But he shot just 27.5 percent on three-point attempts from above the break. Therefore, designing an offensive system that capitalizes on his shooting strengths can make him an effective spacing threat. I discuss at length the offensive system I believe the Heat should employ here. 

(2) By rule, teams are not permitted to trade current year draft picks after 2:00 p.m. (ET) on the day of the draft. However, once the draft begins, teams are permitted to trade the draft rights of players they have already selected. Therefore, technically, these trades would be executed by the teams with the respective picks selecting a player on behalf of the team to which he is ultimately going, and then completing the trades after all players from the current year draft have been selected.

(3) Zach Lowe described this pick as an unprotected future first-round pick that was coming from the Boston Celtics via the Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics own two such picks from the Nets, one in 2016 and one in 2018. It was later confirmed by Bill Simmons that the pick which was offered was in 2016. As such, this post was updated on February 10, 2016 to add this footnote. 

(4) The Minnesota Timberwolves pick is top-12 protected in 2016. If not conveyed, as is likely, it turns into a pair of second-round picks in 2016 and 2017. The Memphis Grizzlies pick is top-12 protected in 2018 (and conveyable only if Memphis conveys a first-round pick to Denver in 2016). If not conveyed, it turns into a top-8 protected pick in 2019 (and conveyable only if Memphis conveys a first-round pick to Denver by 2017), top-6 protected pick in 2020 (and conveyable only if Memphis conveys a first-round pick to Denver by 2018), and fully unprotected in 2021. Given that the Memphis pick would definitely have turned into a future first-round pick while the Wolves pick would have likely turned into a pair of second-round picks, the Heat would likely have selected the Memphis pick.

(5) As of this latest update on July 28, 2015, the Heat had also surrendered their 2020 second-round pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the Zoran Dragic trade. Miami’s only second-round picks available for trade are now a conditional pick in 2018 and unconditional picks all the way out in 2021 and 2022.

(6) The Heat could potentially have even offered three first-round picks and still come out ahead, given that the return from Boston was four first-round picks, thereby netting one additional first-round pick in the process (and some of those picks could have included the Heat’s own future selections because, if structured correctly, the return from the Celtics would have restored the Heat’s ability to do so). I personally think it would be absurd to think that the Pacers, Jazz and Suns all would have rejected a trade package that included as much as three mid-level first-round picks and two future second-round picks in exchange for their own mid-level pick. That, in turn, suggests the trade scenario I have proposed was possible if only the Heat had the vision and desire to pursue it. 

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