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Justise Winslow - A Positionless All-Star

Justise Winslow has had time across all 5 positions, and that equips him to become the Grizzlies’ biggest x-factor.

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Memphis Grizzlies Portraits Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s really funny how all the media outside of Memphis wanted the Grizzlies to buy out Andre Iguodala, and they came away with a good young player that fits the timeline of its core.

Regardless of the outcome, the Memphis Grizzlies won this trade. They flipped a player that had participated in more talk shows than team events for a 23 year-old point forward. Yes, there are health concerns, but Justise Winslow is a versatile player that can make a massive difference for this team.

His 2019-20 campaign has been plagued with injuries, but last season, Winslow blossomed into a strong point forward. He averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.3 assists, while shooting 37.5% from 3 (on 3.9 attempts per game).

On the Grizzlies — both now and going forward — he’ll likely serve as the team’s starting small forward or 6th man. However, over his career, he’s proven that he doesn’t have to be stuck at small forward to make an impact. He’s had his run at point guard, as a small-ball 4, and even some stretches at the 5.

Because of his positional versatility, Justise Winslow is an x-factor for this Next-Gen Grizzlies team both this postseason and years down the road. If he can stay healthy, he can be a dangerous player for the Grizzlies.

Memphis Grizzlies Portraits Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Justise Winslow’s natural position will be at small forward. Whether it’s in the starting 5 (alongside Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Jonas Valanciunas), or off the bench (with Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton, Brandon Clarke, and Gorgui Dieng), he’ll likely be slotted at the 3.

It’s easy to peg him there, as that’s what he’s played since his days at Duke. In the league, his success at that position is tied directly to his 3-point shooting.

Justise Winslow - SF

Season Net Rating Diff 3PT%
Season Net Rating Diff 3PT%
18-19 5.5 37.50%
17-18 6.6 38%
16-17 -4.1 20%
15-16 -0.8 27.60%
Winslow 3-Point and Net Rating from SF Spot Cleaning the Glass and Basketball-Reference

If the Grizzlies got the Winslow from 17-18 and 18-19 in terms of 3-point shooting, it’d be a massive haul for them. Last season, Winslow shot 41.2% on 221 catch-and-shoot 3s. Adding another shooting threat that could create more spacing and scoring looks for Ja Morant? Sign me up.

The most enticing thing out of the Winslow acquisition was an extra playmaker for Ja Morant. In his rookie season, Morant has emerged as a dynamic scorer capable of scoring at all 3 levels. Winslow unlocks a version of Ja Morant that could catapult him into one of the game’s most potent scorers.

In this set, Winslow uses the DHO and double screen to turn a corner. Nunn notices the opening and beelines down the baseline for an easy oop. Just imagine sets like this with Jaren Jackson Jr. fading to the 3-point line, and Ja Morant roaming baseline:

Winslow’s a strong rebounder for his position, so it’s easy for him to push the tempo off the glass. Here, he finds Nunn surging down the lane for the dunk. All I have to say here is, Ja Morant would do it better.

Defensively, Winslow is someone that could guard LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden, or Luka Doncic in big games. As a result, it alleviates pressure from Dillon Brooks as a defensive stopper, and it allows Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke to guard 4s and 5s.

The Grizzlies haven’t sufficiently filled the hole at small forward since the Rudy Gay trade. With Winslow’s potential as a playmaker, scorer, and defender, he could give the Grizzlies something they’ve been itching for — a good starting small forward.

Memphis Grizzlies v Miami Heat Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Where Justise Winslow makes this team dangerous is his positional versatility.

Winslow’s play at point guard last season helped him find his place in the league as a 3-and-D point forward. In 36 games as the starting point guard, he averaged 14.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 1.2 steals, while shooting 46.2% from the field and 38.7% from 3 (4.2 attempts per game). He was a matchup nightmare at that position, as he used his size and physicality to hound opposing guards and to control the game as a scorer and playmaker.

He’s bound to serve as a secondary playmaker that initiates the offense every couple of possessions, but he probably won’t get full-time point guard responsibilities with Morant and Jones taking up all the minutes there. If he does, he’s probably sharing the floor with a non-point guard like De’Anthony Melton or Grayson Allen. However, he’s a promising option if there’s ever a bad break.

If things go awry in the Grizzlies’ backcourt, they could roll with Winslow at the 1 or 2. According to Cleaning the Glass, this season he was a +7.3 at the 1 and a +6.4 at the 2 — albeit in limited minutes.

Winslow’s also proven he’s capable to play a small-ball 4 role. Though his numbers there haven’t been promising the past couple seasons, he was fantastic there at the beginning of his career. In his rookie and sophomore campaigns, he was a +5.6 and +9.3, respectively. This is an ideal spot for the Grizzlies’ offense, as it’d mean they have playmakers at all 5 positions.

Something like Ja/Melton/Brooks/Winslow/JJJ is a lethal lineup that offers spacing, playmaking, and defensive switchability.

In these situations, whether it’s playing small or big, Winslow’s speed and physicality makes him a mismatch for bigger or smaller players. His shooting percentages haven’t been great, and his field goal percentage at the rim hovers around 57-58% for his career. However, with better pace and space, and with playmakers like Morant and Jones, he could improve on his finishing at the rim.

Winslow shows his physicality and control here, as he gets the switch onto a smaller Kemba Walker. Then, he uses his body to pop an easy mid-range shot.

Winslow has great control as a perimeter playmaker. Some players often go 0-100, but Winslow uses his deft handle and burst of speed to manipulate the pace of the possession. This sequence should make Memphis fans salivate, as he catches Jonathan Isaac — one of the league’s most versatile defenders — off guard and finishes over him at the rim.

While it’s said to be a dying art, the mid-range is an integral part of Winslow’s game. Of all his shot attempts last season, 37% came in the mid-range, which is in the 86th percentile among those at his position — per Cleaning the Glass. He can use his control and the threat of attacking the rim to catch defenders off guard for a mid-range jumper.

Winslow’s playmaking and 3-level scorer capacity creates opportunity for him to decisively choose his point of attack against the defense. With his game inside the arc, he could generate attention to free up open shooters. With the threat of the outside shot and his playmaking, he could find his way to the rim for the bucket. Regardless of which position he’s at, he has the tools to become a mismatch, whether it’s in small-ball or supersized lineups.

Memphis Grizzlies Portraits Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Justise Winslow acquisition is ironic.

The Grizzlies traded away Andre Iguodala for a younger player that’s expected to be the NXT-Gen Grizzlies’ Iguodala. With this Grizzlies team, Winslow isn’t expected to be a 17-20 point-per-game scorer. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. are going to pick up different nuances in the game and blossom into 20-25 point scorers. Jonas Valanciunas is still capable of 15 a night, and Dillon Brooks’ role as a gunner projects him as another 12-16 points. With more touches, Brandon Clarke’s offensive game should expand, and he’s already a 12-point scorer that could elevate that number to 15-17.

If Winslow is that dynamic scorer at the wing, similar to a Rudy Gay, that’s a huge win for the Grizzlies... especially considering everything he does so well.

He’s going to take pressure off Ja and initiate the offense, which should unlock the young franchise star as a potent off-ball weapon. He’ll help Jaren and Jonas on the glass. He’ll be tasked with guarding the big, dynamic perimeter players in the league.

The beauty with Winslow is, if it’s not working for him in a particular role or position, his versatility gives Coach Jenkins more room for experimentation. He can be a small-ball 4 off the bench, a backcourt mate for Morant, Jones, or Melton, and — ideally — the team’s starting small forward.

In today’s versatile NBA, Justise Winslow fits the bill for position-less basketball. If he can stay healthy, he can be a dynamic piece that unlocks a dangerous gear for the next great Memphis Grizzlies team.

Stats found on basketball-reference, NBA.com/stats, and Cleaning the Glass.

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