MIAMI -- Miami Heat rookie Justise Winslow was doing his best to fend off questions about the Boston Celtics before Monday's game when he was playfully asked how many first-round picks he thought he was worth.
"Five!" screamed locker neighbor Chris Andersen as Winslow simply leaned back in his stall and smiled in amusement.
The Celtics had pushed hard to land Winslow on draft night, offering four first-round picks to Charlotte in hopes of snagging him at No. 9. The Hornets passed -- and ultimately picked Frank Kaminsky -- and the Heat happily snatched up Winslow at No. 10.
Coy on the team's offer, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge did admit in the aftermath of the draft, "There was a time when I thought, ‘Whoa, this is getting a little out of control.’ We’re putting a lot of eggs in one young player’s basket." Boston ultimately selected Terry Rozier (No. 16), R.J. Hunter (28), and Jordan Mickey (33) with its top three selections in the draft.
But understandably, there's a lingering curiosity about Winslow, the 6-foot-7 small forward who is averaging 7.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists over 28.8 minutes per game in 16 appearances for the Heat. While Celtics coach Brad Stevens has called on Boston's younger players to step up while Marcus Smart is rehabbing a knee injury, Winslow has made an immediate impact on a veteran Miami roster.
Winslow didn't work out for Boston but said he did interview with the team at the draft combine in Chicago and remembered talking with Stevens. Winslow acknowledged he heard about Boston's trade offers in the media but noted, "I remember just the rumors after the draft hearing what they were willing to give up, but I’m here."
Stevens showered Winslow with praise before Monday's game at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“My impression on Justise Winslow is he’s a supermature kid who’s just going to get better and better. Winning’s the most important thing to him, and he’s got a high ceiling," Stevens said. "I think he’ll do well. He’s shown that. I think you can see that,
"Whenever you have an organization like this that’s at the caliber that they have been, and they’re playing him at the end of games pretty consistently, that just tells you where he is emotionally."
That sentiment was echoed by Miami coach Erik Spoelstra.
"He’s mature physically, mentally. For somebody his age to come in and have an impact, he’s a smart player," Spoelstra said. "He’s a competitor; I think that’s probably the most underrated aspect of his game. He really competes, loves the competition part of it. He impacts the game on both sides. He’s earned his minutes.
"He’s continuing to learn the league, learn our system, learn what our culture’s all about. Obviously, we’re thrilled that we were able to acquire him with the 10th pick."
Meanwhile, the Celtics believe their rookies will eventually develop into contributors. Rozier has showcased speed and athleticism but is still learning how to quarterback an offense at the NBA level. Hunter has a high basketball IQ and already is one of the best shooters on Boston's roster. But like any rookie, Hunter is learning how difficult it is to consistently knock down shots; he's shooting 37.8 percent overall and 27.3 percent beyond the 3-point arc. Mickey has spent much of the year with the Maine Red Claws of the D-League, largely due to the depth of Boston's frontcourt.
Winslow had a relatively quiet night on Monday, scoring four points on 1-of-4 shooting, but added six rebounds and four assists over 29 minutes. He was on the floor again for the Heat for much of crunch time. Rozier was the only Boston player to appear, playing 5 minutes when Boston needed to fill backcourt minutes. Hunter logged a DNP.
No matter how Boston's rookies ultimately pan out, Celtics fans will always track Winslow and wonder what might have been.