With 17.4 seconds left in a regular-season game on March 5, 2018 against the Suns, Justise Winslow blew by Davon Reed, exploded off one foot, and threw down a monster dunk over Marquese Chriss and Alec Peters.
Now, more than three years and a torn labrum, a severe hip injury, and a slew of other strains, sprains, and ailments later, Winslow is not expected to be that same freakish athlete. Instead, the Clippers will likely be hoping to harness his utility as an on-ball defender on one side of the court, and as a secondary playmaker on the other.
To that end, having a healthy offseason to get his reps has often been cited as an underappreciated but crucial aspect of his own game by Clippers star Paul George, who has similarly had to battle back from more than his fair share of injuries. And it seems that this summer, Winslow has had the privilege of seeing that firsthand.
In a recent bevy of Twitter and Instagram videos, Winslow can be seen going through ball-handling drills alongside new teammates George and Reggie Jackson and playing pickup against Ben Simmons, Aaron Gordon, Brandon Boston Jr., and other NBA talents. And while his performances in pickup must be taken with a grain of salt (the juxtaposition between Ben Simmons’ shooting in the off-season and in the NBA is testament to that), having a healthy offseason to work on his game, undeterred by rehab, may be enough to get Clippers fans excited for next season.
Although Winslow’s last two seasons were clear setbacks in his development — playing in just 26 and 11 games in 2021 and 2020, respectively, and most recently averaging 6.8 points on 35.2 percent shooting from the field and 18.5 percent from three — the Clippers are hoping a rejuvenated and healthy offseason can reignite his career.
In his last healthy season (relatively speaking, that is — he still only played 66 games), Winslow averaged 12.6 points per game with shooting splits of 43.3/37.5/62.8 for Miami in the 2018-19 season. At his best, Winslow projected as a versatile forward who can fill ball-handling roles as the primary playmaker and point guard, but also who is sound enough defensively to reliably guard 1-4 and hold his own as a small-ball center. His dynamic ability to finish in the paint should fit in with Ty Lue’s drive-and-kick offense. And though he has never been considered a true floor spacer, he has shown flashes of being able to hit the three-ball when healthy and in rhythm (eg. in 2018-19, he made 45.5 percent of his 55 shots from the left corner). With Winslow signed to a two-year, $8 million deal, his value to the Clippers can be likened to a high-reward, low-risk gamble on his durability.
With Kawhi Leonard out for most of, if not the entire, season, replacing his value to the team is going to have to be a communal effort. However, if Winslow can stay healthy, if the Clippers coaching and developmental staff can help him finally unlock his potential, and if these off-season videos can offer any indication, this talented two-way forward may just be able to put on a convincing enough imitation of the Klaw to earn himself a spot in Ty Lue’s rotation.