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2020 NBA Draft Profiles: Cassius Winston

Winston could very well be on the board for the Grizzlies.

Minnesota v Michigan State Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Over the next month, GBB will be profiling various players the Memphis Grizzlies may target in the 2020 NBA Draft. Today, Cassius Winston is the subject as the Grizzlies’ possible selection with the 40th pick.

Cassius Winston, Point Guard, Michigan State University

  • 6’1”, 185 pounds, 22 years old, from Detroit, Michigan
  • Four seasons at Michigan State; senior year: 32.7 minutes per game, 18.6 points per game on 45% shooting (43% from three, 85% from the foul line), 2.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 1.2 steals
  • THREE ADVANCED STATS OF STRENGTH (per Tankathon.com): PER (23.0), Projected NBA Three-Point Percentage (39%), Usage (29.0)
  • AN ADVANCED STAT TO IMPROVE: Free Throw Rate (33.0)
  • ACCOLADES: third-team All-Big Ten Conference (2017-18), Big Ten Player of the Year (2018-19), first-team All-Big Ten Conference (2019-20), Michigan State AND Big Ten all-time assists leader
  • CURRENT BIG BOARD PLACEMENTS: 57th overall (NBADraft.net), undrafted (Tankathon), 29th (ESPN), 29th (CBS Sports)

Every once in a while, there’s a player that comes around that I believe in just as much because of their character as I do their talent. Cassius Winston, a player that has overcome immense suffering over the last year while remaining a model of leadership and integrity, is one of those players.

While a player of his resume would seem to be a certain NBA rotation player, there is not universal agreement among pundits that Winston will even be drafted at all. Allow me to be blunt: that would be an absolute travesty of the highest order. And if he is available when the Memphis Grizzlies, a team that admittedly is stacked with guard depth, are on the clock with the 40th pick, they should strongly consider selecting him.

What he does well

Minnesota v Michigan State Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Before I say anything about Cassius Winston’s impressive talent, I want to emphasize his leadership and intangibles. Of course, intangibles can only take a player so far in the NBA if they don’t also possess an adequate level of talent. Yet Winston absolutely does, and his intangibles are a significant reason as to why he’s such a compelling prospect.

Over the course of his college career, Winston established himself as a natural leader and emotional centerpiece for one of college basketball’s premier programs while also contending for the John R. Wooden award, which is rewarded to college basketball’s most outstanding player each year.

However, during this past season, he had to suffer through intense grief after the sudden death of his brother, playing in a game mere hours after his death. He later admitted that his grief and pain had affected his game for most of the season, taking away his desire to even play basketball anymore. But even in spite of the fact that his suffering and grief was nearly debilitating, Winston rallied himself and his teammates to where they won the Big Ten regular season championship and would have likely won more if not for the COVID-19 pandemic. Winston himself was again a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection.

It’s difficult to be a leader under normal circumstances. But it’s even harder to do so when you feel like you have nothing left of yourself to give. So when you’re trying to win an NBA championships with all the hurdles and adversity that entails, why would you not want someone like Cassius Winston in your locker room?

From a purely basketball perspective, you can count the number of college basketball players from the last decade with an overall more impressive resume and career than Cassius Winston on one hand. Over the last two years, he was almost always in the conversation for the best player in college basketball, consistently exemplifying an NBA-ready skill-set that could allow him to thrive as an NBA team’s backup point guard from his first day in training camp. He is a superb passer and a floor general in every sense of the word, possessing an almost preternatural sense of where his teammates are on the court.

While he did demonstrate good scoring chops in college, it’s the fact that he may quietly be this draft’s best overall shooter that should make him so attractive in an NBA where point guards must space the floor. During his senior year, he shot 43% from three on a healthy 5.6 attempts, while ranking in the 97th percentile on spot-ups, 93rd percentile on jumpers, 90th percentile off screens, and 90th percentile off the dribble.

What he can improve

Minnesota v Michigan State Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Ironically, Winston’s biggest issue in transitioning to the NBA will be that he’s very small compared to most NBA guards at just 6’1”. Unfortunately, a lack of size is something that a player can’t improve unless they’re a young, raw prospect, which Winston at 22 is definitely not. Although he wasn’t a poor defender in college, he definitely wasn’t an exceptional one, and it will be difficult for him to defend at near a league-average level with his lack of size, passable 6’5” wingspan, and unremarkable lateral quickness.

Another unfixable issue for Winston that only compounds his lack of size is his apparent lack of athleticism. While he does possess solid agility and quickness, he doesn’t have top-shelf speed that many role players of his size in the NBA like Ish Smith do. He also relies exclusively on shiftiness and change of pace to create off the dribble rather than burst and explosiveness, which could be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how you look at it. But his lack of burst and vertical explosiveness will cause him to struggle at finishing at the rim and drawing fouls in the NBA, areas of which he was merely average in college.

The Fit

NCAA Basketball Tournament - East Regional - Washington DC - Practice Sessions Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Winston is admittedly not an ideal fit for what the Grizzlies will likely be looking for in the second round, which is a wing that’s an effective three-point shooter. However, the Grizzlies’ current roster is so well-constructed that they truly don’t have any glaring needs to be addressed. And in the modern NBA, you can never have too many players that dribble, pass, and shoot all at a high level, which is exactly what Cassius Winston does. Add in the fact that he very well may be the best shooter in the draft, and he very likely will be the best player available for the Grizzlies if he is still on the board.

Even though he’s already quite polished, it’s more likely than not that he wouldn’t get consistent minutes as a rookie in Memphis behind Ja Morant and Tyus Jones. But the Grizzlies shouldn’t prioritize players that have the best chance of breaking into the rotation as a rookie because there’s probably no one they could select at 40 who will earn minutes over those already in a deep rotation. They should simply draft the best player available and sort out the implications later.

The Verdict

Minnesota v Michigan State Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Over the course of the Grizzlies’ time in Memphis, those who have immortalized themselves as franchise legends were characterized by their intangibles, including leadership, grit, tenacity and resilience. And if you are looking for one player in this NBA draft who fits those characteristics, then you can look no further than Cassius Winston.

Winston would fit like a glove in Memphis, no matter what his exact role would be. Every NBA championship team needs players of his character, and he provides an impressive combination of skills that can allow him to thrive in Taylor Jenkins’ offense. His talent and intelligence outweigh his physical deficiencies. He is, as Michigan State beat writer Chris Solari wrote, a young man whose tremendous vision extends far beyond the basketball court.

With all of that being said, I highly doubt that Winston will make his way to Memphis at 40, even if many mock drafts seem to be trending in that direction. Some veteran team like the Los Angeles Lakers, who have lacked consistent backup point guard play this year, will pick him up late in the first round or early in the second.

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