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Justise Winslow: Mr. Positionless Basketball

What does he offer outside of playing the three?

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2020-21 Memphis Grizzlies Content Day Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Swiss army knife versatility of Justise Winslow has been well documented here at Grizzly Bear Blues after his acquisition before last season’s trade deadline. His combination of size and guard skill allows for any coaching staff to get creative with the lineups they put on the floor. Secondary playmakers are all the rage in the NBA these days and Winslow adds to Coach Jenkins’ arsenal as perhaps the best secondary playmaker on the roster.

The hope of many is that the Grizzlies have solved their starting small forward problem that has plagued the best versions of the franchise in years past. While Winslow might be the three on the lineup card, Coach Jenkins could deploy him at any spot to combat any situation they may face.

Here is what Winslow has offered at each position over his career, outside of the three:


Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Point Guard

There was a time when Goran Dragic went down for the Miami Heat and coach Erik Spoelstra opted to start Winslow as the team’s point guard. It started December 8th, 2018 against the Los Angeles Clippers and for a 32 game stretch, point Justise became the best version of Justise Winslow in the utility man’s young career.

According to Cleaning the Glass, in his stretch as the primary playmaker, Winslow played well enough to lead a team to 60 wins, second only behind his stretch as a power forward during his sophomore season. His +/- was a +7.3, also second best of his career and in the 87th percentile in the NBA that season.

Offensively, he was less than desirable as far as the team’s pace and efficiency despite some high scoring games, but playing at the point defensively is where the advantage truly shined. Winslow was in the 99th percentile in defensive rating, 97th percentile in eFG%, 94th percentile in turnovers created and 98th percentile in offensive rebounding. While Winslow will certainly grow as an offensive player, as he has yet to hit his prime, his defensive numbers at the ones that are gaudy.

If something unfortunate were to happen to the Grizzlies’ budding superstar Ja Morant, Justise Winslow would be a prime candidate to replace him as the lead point guard, allowing Tyus Jones to continue his masterful work with the bench unit.

Shooting Guard

In all reality, in today’s NBA, the shooting guard and small forward positions are pretty interchangeable unless you are running two guard lineups like Ja Morant and Tyus Jones together. But Dillon Brooks is the incumbent starter at the two, leaving the three as the only spot available in the Grizzlies lineup.

Winslow has had some time in the backcourt as the off guard while with the Miami Heat. His total +/- at the two over his career is an astronomical +59.6, but context certainly matters as the majority of his time in that role came in 2018-19 when he was a +6.4. Playing off ball in 2018-19 was such a vast difference offensively than when he ran the point. He went from the 13th percentile to the 75th in offensive rating and from 27th percentile to the 95th in eFG%. His defensive rating decreased but was still in the top quarter of the league while leading the league in offensive rebound rate by opponent.

Should Coach Jenkins to decide to bring Brooks off the bench in favor of Desmond Bane, Winslow could easily slide into the off guard spot and be a plus player.

Power Forward

Justise spent his rookie and junior seasons primarily playing the four spot. Obviously the current iteration of this Grizzlies roster does not allow for Winslow to be featured permanently at that spot, however the future could make room for that. Once Jonas Valanciunas’ contract is up, Memphis may decide it is time for Jaren Jackson Jr to be the full time center, creating an option for Winslow to start next to him.

Kyle Anderson has been the de facto small ball four for Memphis, but Winslow is a definitive upgrade. Jackson Jr. is expected to miss a month or more to start the season, therefore in the first few weeks we could see a starting lineup featuring Winslow at the four.

In Miami, he was an overall +11 at the power forward position and was in the 93rd percentile his sophomore year playing 25% of his minutes there for a +9.3. In his first two seasons, he was in the 90th and 89th percentile in defensive rating and 89th and 97th percentile in opponent eFG%. The numbers show he can defend at a very high level at any position.

Offensively, power forward has been his worst position for both offensive rating and eFG%. While he has the strength to bang with the bigger power forwards, he is not explosive enough as an athlete to regularly blow by his opponent at the position. His value at the four is his playmaking and ability to spread the floor.

Center

The Miami Heat center experiment with Justise Winslow was a very small and unsuccessful sample size. In the few minutes he received at the five in South Beach, he was a -77.9, which is bad enough for Jenkins to never really experiment with it. However, there could still be opportunity and value to Winslow running the five against second units or against a small ball revolution team like the Houston Rockets.


All in all, the Grizzlies’ coaching staff has a ton of freedom for creativity with the abilities of Justise Winslow. His defense alone will require him to be on the floor as much as possible and his offensive game could take a leap, making him one of the top two way players in the league and possibly the best “small forward” Memphis has deployed since Rudy Gay.

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