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Justise Winslow has hit the Memphis big time

Justise Winslow had a long road to recovery, but he maintained an infectious energy that showed his character.

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LA Clippers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Justise Winslow had a long, tough road to his recent debut. When he came over from the Miami Heat in February of 2020, he was rehabbing a back injury he had dealt with all season. Once he was ready to make his Memphis Grizzlies debut, the season was suspended due to the initial COVID-19 exposures. He was back and ready to go in the bubble, then a “one in a million” hip injury occurred and sidelined him for nearly 7 months.

However, one thing that stuck throughout his time out was his energy off the bench. He was super vocal from the bench, both sharing his observations with his teammates and keeping the energy up.

“I’ve been waiting a while to take part in the fun on the court,” Winslow said. “But it doesn’t take away from the fun I had watching this guys and trying to help and support where I can. Obviously, I wanted to get back on the court, but still being around the guys and being on the bench, I found ways to stay engaged and still have fun. “

There was one phrase two of his teammates described his energy and leadership.

Big time.

“I feel like with his energy on the bench, it rubbed off on everybody to be all engaged during the game,” Ja Morant said of Winslow. “I feel like it helped us a lot in feeding off each other’s energy.”

Justise Winslow has gotten a wealth of experience to start his career under the elusive, highly-praised “Heat Culture.” He had a legend like Dwyane Wade and one of the most esteemed locker room vets in Udonis Haslem to lean on. He also got valuable in-game experience as a lead guard, as a primary defensive stopper for the likes of LeBron James and James Harden, and in big minutes in playoff situations. He’s gotten to share that experience as an elite defender — talking about the different nuances on that end (individual defense, pick-and-roll coverage, and rotations) — and he’s been actively communicating with Ja Morant and Tyus Jones on the offense. That sort of experience has been huge for his teammates.

“He’s a guy that's been in the league, been in the playoffs, has experience,” Kyle Anderson said. “So for him to help the young team we have, that was big time to have him around for sure.”

While Winslow’s experience has paid dividends for this team, the relationship between him and his teammates was a two-way street during his recovery process. He did a great job of picking up the spirits of his teammates and engaging in dialogue with his teammates. Also, his teammates were picking his spirits up too and getting him caught up to speed within the new system, which is very important to do when one of your guys is out with injury.

“I think early on, even last year and even the start of this year, not being healthy and not being out there with his guys, I think they were picking his spirits up too, engaging him in dialogue and still getting him up to speed on how we play offensively and defensively,” Coach Taylor Jenkins said of Winslow. “I think his spirit and his engagement on the sidelines has really taken him to another level where he’s been able to dive in with his teammates, reciprocating to them.”

This is a testament to the culture that’s brewing here — a culture that’s becoming the standard set for the Nxt-Gen Grizzlies. They feed off each other’s energy that generates excitement for everyone involved.

Brooklyn Nets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Justise Winslow’s energy has been “big time” — as Morant, Desmond Bane, and Anderson have all put it — especially given all the challenges he’s endured over the past year.

“It was definitely a challenging year, very difficult,” Winslow said after his debut. “Came to a great organization. An organization that wanted me, and that truly believed in me. Getting healthy the first time around and getting hurt in the bubble are things I didn’t expect, but I just stayed with it, stayed positive, kept pushing forward. Not only that, but you add the whole COVID situation and everything, so I missed time due to that and that affected my rehab. But it’s been a crazy year for everybody, just emotionally, mentally with the virus. You add basketball, and a pretty serious injury on top of that.”

It would’ve been easy for anyone to check out. Injuries, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the social justice issues over the past year hurt him and allowed him to “take a second and zoom out” past basketball. Through everything, he maintained a strong spirit throughout his rehab process, and he’s flashed his character and his leadership in the process.

“I felt like it just shows his character, shows that he’s all about the team,” Morant said. “He’s very unselfish. You never know what a guy is going through when they have to sit out, especially for him.”

And that’s a very important lesson for us to take when a player is going through an injury that might be taking a little longer than our liking. We do not know what these players go through, and jokes for some Twitter likes don’t really do any favors.

Memphis Grizzlies v Houston Rockets Photo by Maria Lysaker/NBAE via Getty Images

Now, after a challenging year, Justise Winslow is back on the court, and we’re starting to see why the Grizzlies sought after him at the last trade deadline. He’s a big wing that can create for himself and others, defend the league’s elite perimeter talents, and thrive in transition. And as we’ve seen in his last 2 games against the Clippers and the Rockets, he’s finally getting in on the fun.

“It’s nothing like being out there with the guys, being in the fire,” Winslow said.

Justise Winslow has seemed like a great fit from the beginning with his infectious energy and his engaged leadership. His leadership will be important for this Grizzlies team to navigate their way to greatness. Now we’re seeing the benefits on the court. The way he fits with the Memphis Grizzlies the most is how much he loves being here on this team, as he said in yesterday’s postgame interview.

As he continues to knock off the rust, Winslow’s on-court impact will be just like his energy and leadership throughout his first year — big time.

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