For the first time in a year, a bit of good luck fell the way of the Miami Heat last night when Duke national champion Justise Winslow dropped to 10th in the draft. In a post-draft exercise that's way too early to even take seriously, many people are saying the Heat "won" the draft. About time something went the Heat's way, right?
How surprised was the Heat to see Winslow still on the board at 10? Pat Riley had never spoken with Winslow until moments before NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced the pick on national television. No pre-draft interviews between the Heat and Winslow; no pre-draft workouts in Miami. Riley, general manager Andy Elisburg and coach Erik Spoelstra didn't think Winslow would be around by the 10th pick, but a series of surprising decisions by other teams fell into place like dominoes for the Heat. Here's a look at some of those dominoes, but in reverse order...
"When you're picking 10, but you don't think this kid is even going to be close to you, isn't going to drop to you and he drops down, you get some palpitations," Riley said. "Micky [Arison] and Nick [Arison] started singing the Duke fight song, whatever it is. They're pretty excited with all the connections they have with Duke and that whole program we have great respect for."
So ... the Arisons celebrated the pick just like everyone else in Miami, by singing the Duke fight song. I kid, I kid...
Anyway, the Duke-Miami connection now lives on through Winslow. If you're counting at home, as many as three former Blue Devils could be in Heat uniforms next season (Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng are the others). I bring up all this Duke-ness because the team that picked directly ahead of the Heat in the draft, the Charlotte Hornets, actually do have a lot of fans that know the Duke fight song.
The Hornets passed on Winslow to draft Frank Kaminsky, the 7-foot shooter from Wisconsin. Duke, of course, defeated the Badgers with ease in the NCAA Tournament national champion game. If Kaminsky doesn't work out in Charlotte, and Winslow becomes a star, then a large chunk of Hornets fans will never let Michael Jordan forget about it.
Jordan, of course, played for North Carolina in college, so it's not completely ridiculous to wonder aloud whether or not Jordan passed on the kid from Duke for personal reasons. (Yes, and I'm fully aware that Charlotte is a Carolina town, so it just would never have worked out, and yada, yada yada.)
Of course, there's a much more boring explanation that's probably closer to the truth. It was reported before the draft that the Hornets would select Kaminsky if he was still available at nine. It's entirely possible that the Hornets front office was so excited that their guy was still on the board that they overlooked the obvious fact that a potentially better player was still available.
Many mock drafts had Winslow going in the top seven, so when the Pistons drafted another small forward, Stanley Johnson, at eight, the Heat's draft night war room got a little crazy. One after another teams called the Heat in the hopes of moving up in the draft for Winslow. The Heat had its man, though. The Arisons should send Jordan and Van Gundy some coupons for a free cruise just as a thank you.
So, we know why Jordan and the Hornets passed on Winslow, but why the Pistons? There has already been plenty of speculation on the Internet, but one reason might be that Stan Van Gundy thinks Stanley Johnson can start right away and Winslow needs a little more developing. Whatever the reason, the early general consensus (less than a day after the draft, so take it with a grain of salt, of course) is that the Heat got the player with more long-term potential.
Draftnik Chad Ford of ESPN.com on the Pistons taking Johnson over Winslow:
"Reasonable minds can differ on Johnson. I differ. I'm not sold that Johnson is anything more than a solid role player who uses his great body and toughness to provide some muscle. Meanwhile Winslow was sitting on the board. Winslow has a chance to be an All-Star. While Johnson looks the part, Winslow plays the part. He does all the little things that make a team great. I think the Pistons made a mistake on Thursday and, in the process, gave the Heat a major gift at 10."
At seven, the Denver Nuggets drafted Emmanuel Mudiay, a point guard. The Nuggets wanted a point guard and Mudiay might be ready to start as a rookie. Ty Lawson had some fun with the pick.
At six, the Kings drafted Kentucky big man Willie Cauley-Stein, who was high on the Heat's draft board.
Wonder who the Heat would take if given the choice, Cauley-Stein or Winslow? We'll probably never know. What's important is the Heat filled a major, immediate need on its roster while also landing a player who could turn into a two-way star.
"Justise is an incredible, very mature, young at 19, player that anybody that has watched him play can see that he's not only athletic, but he's a playmaker, a multiple position player," Riley said. "We had him very high on our board. We're very fortunate he got to us. If all these guys come back, he just adds to the depth we're going to have. He's a very mature guy who loves to work."
Oh, almost forgot...The first domino to fall for the Heat-Winslow connection, as Riley pointed out on Thursday night, was the Heat's awful finish to the 2014-15 regular season. Riley noted one blown game in particular that, months later, helped send Winslow to Miami.
"Today we had the chance to draft No. 10," Riley said. "I don't think we're a No. 10 draft pick team. We're better than that. Today, I can thank Kris Middleton in Milwaukee. That was a bad day for us. Today, we can thank him for making that shot with 0.8 seconds to go. We got a break. We need them in this game."
THE SHOT THAT SENT WINSLOW TO MIAMI