Project Post-Up: Wade and Winslow

Justise Winslow and Dwyane Wade
by Couper Moorhead

In all walks of life, your chances of success rise exponentially if someone is looking out for you. Sure, there are cases of people going it alone, but more often than not the story involves a person of influence and/or experience taking the time to show the ropes, teach a valuable lesson or offer a word of encouragement at the right time.

Professional basketball is no different, and even though Justise Winslow very rarely looks, sounds or plays like the 19-year old rookie that he is it certainly can’t hurt that Dwyane Wade has gone out of his way to impart some wisdom.

For 15-20 minutes after the Miami HEAT’s practice on Friday (once media was allowed in the gym) Wade and assistant coach David Fizdale ran Winslow through a number of post situations, going over move and counter-move sequencing as well as defensive coverages. Fizdale, you might remember, spent time in Atlanta teaching Joe Johnson how to operate off the block before coming to Miami and becoming a pivotal figure in the post-development of both Wade and LeBron James.

Now the team behind Project Post-Up shifts its focus to Winslow.

“Right now, there’s going to be certain things that coach wants him to do,” Wade said. “Some of those things are things that I’m good at, things that I’ve perfected. It’s just passing down knowledge to someone I think will be good at things that I have strengths at.”

It’s always important to note that this probably isn’t a regular classroom session between Wade and Winslow. It’s preseason and Friday was the first of three practice days in a row for Miami. Time was plentiful. But that Winslow was working in the post at all represents an advanced timeline for any wing player. Neither Wade nor James started working in their post-games in earnest until they had made multiple All-Star teams. By the time Fizdale got to Miami, Wade was already 27.

“It’s going to take awhile, but if you figure it out at 21 he’s ahead of the curve,” Wade said.

What seems to separate this instance of post-practice work from all the others is that Winslow actually might see some time in the post this season. While he spent a fair amount of time at the power-forward spot at Duke, Winslow still found time to post-up about six percent of the time (30 possessions in 39 games) while scoring at a well above-average rate. In Miami’s first preseason game against Charlotte, Erik Spoelstra appeared to run a deliberate cross-screening action to get Winslow a catch on the block.

That power-gather into the middle of the floor – which Wade spent time demonstrating Friday – accounted for the majority of Winslow’s post-offense in college, but he also flashed a smooth up-and-under and hook shots with either hand. It’s very early in the process, but Winslow seems to come pre-packaged with moves that even multi-year veterans don’t possess – in part because of expert tutelage that came his way as a youth in Houston.

“The person I learned post-ups from was actually John Lucas III’s (in camp with Miami) father, Coach Lucas, down in Houston working out,” Winslow said. “From a young age, I wasn’t really a post-up guy, but he could see my frame and what I could potentially grow into. He had me on the block working against older guys, and using my body and athleticism.”

It might not seem like such a big deal that an ex-NBA player saw a kid with broad shoulders and decided to get him working near the rim, but high-school and AAU basketball has trended just as much toward the pick-and-roll, floor-spacing game as the pros. It’s somewhat rare to even see big men get training with their backs to the basket, much less a 6-foot-7 wing.

No matter how much training Winslow has, though, no matter how many counter-moves he has in his arsenal or how many hook shots he makes over Wade after practice, there’s no substitute for in-game experience. You can practice spot-up jumpers a thousand times a day, but working on the block is about more than being able to make the shots.

In the time of zone defense and Tom Thibodeau copycats, it takes an understanding of the floor. It takes…

“Patience,” Wade says. “You want to get down there and you want to go. But you have to have patience in the post. The best players, they have all the patience in the world and they get you to do what they want you to do.

“It’s tough when you’re going quick. When you get the ball in the post you take a moment, glance at the court. I look at myself as a playmaker. I have to keep the defense honest. When I put my head down and I go to dribble, I’m easy to guard. I’m a playmaker first. I’m looking and scanning, [so] now the defense can’t just be waiting on me because I can make a pass.”

The next level after that is understanding that once you make the pass, the ball could still find you again.

“I started to understand, it’s OK to get it in the post and if a guy cuts you get him the ball,” Wade said. “One thing coach starts saying, ‘If you give it to the guy, we’re going to come back to you’. Sometimes, when you get it down there you think, ‘I might not get it again’. But then when you give it to him and you know the play is coming back, that made me a little more calm in the post.”

Winslow has already shown patience and vision beyond his years in his brief court time, but it’s a lot to ask of even the most mature rookies to suddenly be able to direct offense from the blocks. Realistically – though hardly decidedly – Winslow could get a few post-ups a week to continue his development. A nice comparison as far as post-ups go might be Harrison Barnes, who in his third year with Golden State last season became a dependable post-option against mismatches. Barnes didn’t even wind up with 50 post possessions all season, but it was yet another threat in a dynamic Warriors offense.

Considering Winslow, like Barnes, could be asked to defend players of all shapes and sizes, having offensive abilities on both the perimeter and in the paint can do nothing but help.

“You’re blessed if you’re able to run high pick-and-rolls and blow by people” Wade said. “I’ve done that for so many years. But you aren’t going to be able to blow by all these quick guys. You have to put yourself in a situation where you can still be effective without having to use your speed.”

Again, tempered expectations are the right play here. This is all something that we could be talking about more in three years than in three months, but that takes nothing at all away from how unique of a situation this is. You have a young, strong wing who already has rare post experience on the same team as one of the best post-up guards in the game along with a coach who happens to have overseen the post-development of many of the league’s premier scorers. One willing student, two willing teachers.

Quite the confluence of events this is. The beginning of the sort of chapter that tends to lurk, somewhere, in the success story of just about anyone.

“This is all new,” Wade said. “I’m going to help him as much as I can, I’m going to be on him as much as I can. It’s going to take a little while, but there’s going to be that one moment where it’s going to click. And he’ll see how easy the game can be for him.”

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