After 380 days, Justise Winslow has suited up for the Memphis Grizzlies.
He was originally supposed to come back the game the NBA season was suspended. Then, he was in training camp for the NBA bubble, but had a freak hip injury in practice that sidelined him for 6 months. Now, we finally got to see Justise Winslow in real-life basketball as a Memphis Grizzly.
The results were mixed to say the least.
It took him the first half to get going — as expected from someone who’s missed over 400 days of NBA basketball, an extraneous activity that only elite athletes are capable of. He admitted to feeling excited coming in, looking for his first shot. You could see he was forcing the issue a little bit, and he still needed to get his legs under him.
However, in the second half, he started to show flashes.
There was a sequence earlier in the second half where he got the ball off a rebound, took a few dribbles, and fired an outlet to Ja Morant. His activity on the glass and his playmaking prowess is an asset in transition, especially next to Morant. He also drilled his 1st 3-pointer of the second half, and though it’ll take him time to find his legs on his jumper, his mechanics looked smooth there.
Winslow’s next two buckets were mesmerizing though. He grabbed the ball around the elbow and took Jae Crowder to the rack with one dribble spin-move for the lay-in — maybe a sign from the basketball gods that Memphis made the right call on the trade in the first place. Then, he hit a nice pull-up jumper in the mid-range against Dario Saric, flashing his upside as a shot-creator.
It wasn’t a golden debut, as he finished with 9 points on 3-14 shooting and 7 rebounds in 21 minutes, but it was great to at least see the flashes of the Winslow brought into Memphis.
What stuck the most
One of the most tantalizing aspects from Winslow’s debut is the “heck of a job” he put on defense, as Coach Jenkins called it. He maintained a high-level of defensive activity and showed no signs of rust on that side of the ball. He quickly locked in on defense, particularly guarding Devin Booker. Jenkins even joked before the game saying that he was getting thrown into the fire having to guard one of the league’s most elite scorers.
It’s been something covered briefly on the blog, but Justise Winslow isn’t only supposed to make life easier for Ja Morant on offense; he’s also going to take defensive pressure off guys like Dillon Brooks. With his size and aggression, he’s somebody you could have defend guys like Devin Booker, Luka Doncic (as we’ll see next game!), Brandon Ingram, and Donovan Mitchell. Defense is not only an area of expertise for him, but it’s an area he hangs his hat on. He’s the type of player that longs for these opportunities to lock down the opposing team’s best player.
“Those are challenges I relish,” Winslow told me. “I like that challenge. I like going up against the other team’s best player. Coach made sure that in every huddle, there was a ‘JW’ next to Booker on the clipboard. I love it. I love being thrown into the fire.”
It’s nothing new to him either, as he’s done this his whole career — even pointed to his rookie year where he guarded LeBron James, James Harden, and DeMar DeRozan in his second, third, and fourth career games.
His role going forward
Though many envisioned him stepping in as the starting 3, Coach Jenkins did say he’ll be off the bench for a bit and will have plenty of opportunities to have the ball in his hands. That’s the best case for him, as it’ll also give him a more fair shot at knocking some rust off.
Before you point to last night’s game, he won’t share the floor with that bench unit going forward. Even in the not-so-distant future (tomorrow’s game), he’ll likely be surrounded by Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton, Desmond Bane, and Brandon Clarke. That should provide him with plenty of spacing, cutting, rim-running, and defensive help. It’ll also be a fun lineup that can get out in transition.
Even when he’s not starting, or while he’s shaking off rust, his value will shine in spurts over the next couple weeks. There will be flashes where he looks like that big playmaking wing that can take on tough defensive assignments, create off the dribble, and bring swagger to the team. More importantly, we’ll see why the organization targeted Winslow in the first place.
“The guy’s got a bright future with us,” Coach Taylor Jenkins said of Winslow.
Justise Winslow is here, and his future with the Grizzlies starts now.