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Denver Nuggets 2015 NBA Draft Prospect: Justise Winslow

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Continuing Denver Stiffs series of the top players available in the upcoming NBA draft, on June 25th. Leading up to the draft, we will be covering all of the major players, giving you a breakdown of their game, and how the Nuggets can go about acquiring said player(s).

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Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Justise Winslow is the son of Robin Davis and Rickie Winslow. He attended St. John's School in his hometown of Houston, concluding his high school career with 3,208 points and 1,708 rebounds. His senior campaign was stellar - he averaged 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, leading to his being named Mr. Basketball Texas 2014 and earning a host of other awards and accolades.

Justise's father, Rickie, was the first basketball all-American from Houston and a star player on the the University of Houston's team between 1983 and 1987, and was even a member of the "Phi Slamma Jamma" team which included Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon:

During his sole year at Duke University, Justise averaged 12.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists, shooting 49% from the floor and a very respectable 41.7% from beyond the arc in 29.1 minutes per game (earning him a cool 22.6 PER). The fact that he was also considered one of the best perimeter defenders in the country only serves to help boost Justise's draft stock further. He joins fellow teammate Jahlil Okafor in declaring for the NBA draft following his freshman year - after helping lead the Duke Blue Devils to their fifth national championship.

Strengths

At 6'6" with a 6'10" wingspan and weighing in at 225 pounds, Justise would bring an NBA-ready frame his rookie season. With his strength, speed and length, he presents matchup issues and is capable of defending multiple positions. While it's unlikely that he'll be able to play the same style of "bully-ball" that he did in the NCAA, he can score in a variety of ways. He has the ability to post up with an already-refined back to the basket game full of up-and-under moves and step throughs, can take defenders off the dribble, and is comfortable slashing left or right.

Offensively, he reminds me very much of a young Carmelo Anthony or James Harden with his versatility, but has compared himself to Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler. I like his comparison a lot more, not only because both Leonard and Butler are up-and-coming stars in the league, but because they're both noted two-way players who can do more than just score.

Like Harden, Justise is also a southpaw but ambidextrous enough to be comfortable attacking with either hand. His jumper has earned him the respect of defenders who must close out or risk him splashing an open look, and when they do, his quick first step and upper body strength allows him to muscle through many seemingly clogged lanes.

Defensively, Justise is a pest. Despite being undersized, he's guarded many power forwards and has the strength to bang in the post. He shows great lateral movement with his feet and rotates very quickly, with a high rate of blocks and steals (1.2 blocks + 1.8 steals per 40 minutes). He keeps his hands up and closes out on his man. He gets over screens and picks impressively and doesn't back down from larger players.

Finally, Justise is widely regarded as a "high IQ" player who has a great feel for the game and doesn't commit many mistakes. He passes well for a wing, makes cuts to the basket off the ball and has good court vision. When you mix all these factors together, Justise is an extremely versatile all-around player with a smooth jumper, defensive tenacity and a high ceiling in the NBA.

Weaknesses

Justise is truly a player with very few glaring weaknesses in his game. There is some question as to whether or not his torrid shooting pace could be maintained over the course of a full college career - much less an NBA one - but that can only be answered going forward by putting the ball in his hands.

Justise struggles with pull-ups and creating off the dribble. He'll frequently get into trouble due to a lack of creativity and tendency to revert to the same offense in 1-on-1 situations, relying on his quickness to carry him to the rim. Without more consistency in nailing his pull-ups, defenders can sag off and greatly reduce his effectiveness driving to the rim.

He's only an "average" athlete - by NBA wing standards - and doesn't have a truly high-flying explosive vertical game, relying more on his fluidity and strength when getting to the rim. He might struggle when contending with the likes of Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis or Rudy Gobert and confronted with their freakish length. He'll need to further refine his post play to truly retain a reliable offense in the NBA.

At 61% shooting from the free throw line, Justise will need to improve his somewhat stiff release, especially given that his attacking style will likely lead to a lot of trips to the charity stripe.

Final Thoughts

I'm not sure what to think about Justise. On the one hand, comparisons to Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler have me salivating, on the other, he joins a logjam of "tweeners" on the Nuggets - already featuring Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson, Will Barton (restricted free agent), and Darrell Arthur (free agent), undersized all. Do Justise's intangibles - like his ostensibly high basketball IQ, hard work ethic and national championship pedigree - add enough to his resume to supplement a relatively small body of work? How effective can his relatively simple game be against the best talent in the world?

Ultimately, most mock drafts I've seen have Justise landing anywhere between the 4th and 6th selection, so it seems likely the Nuggets may not even have the chance to take a swing for Justise. Should the opportunity to do so be presented to the team, the Nuggets should think long and hard about what role in specific they envision Justise filling and whether or not he can remain consistent at the highest level.

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