The Memphis Grizzlies decided to rest all their starters and Brandon Clarke in last night’s win over the Sacramento Kings before they hit the road for a crucial meeting with the Golden State Warriors on Sunday. With little separation between the two teams, and with neither team owning the tiebreaker, it was a smart move to do. In the process, it opened up minutes for some of the second-unit members, as well as the fringe rotation players.
And that meant big minutes for Justise Winslow.
Winslow has become a divisive topic around Grizzlies coverage — Twitter, talk radio, podcasts, blogs, etc. The trade is one thing that draws debates, as critics point to the veterans lost in the middle of a playoff push and to the cap flexibility. Then, it was forcing minutes for him when he didn’t look right. The iceberg tipped when Taylor Jenkins sacrificed Tyus Jones minutes to get Winslow going as the backup point guard.
He ultimately fell out of the rotation, losing spot minutes to John Konchar and Killian Tillie in the process. However, he got the chance to get some extended run and a lot of reps in last night’s game, and he made the most of it.
Dating back to his initial debut, my thing with Justise Winslow was all about the flashes. I marked up his struggles to having to return to game-speed basketball after missing 400+ days due to a rough lower-body injury, while also having to rehab through the ripple effects of a pandemic. The flashes were more important to me, and that’s exactly what he showed last night.
Justise Winslow looked comfortable out there. His ball-handling and movement initiating offensive possessions were smooth and fluid — while also setting up his teammates nicely. He crashed the glass, and he also wasn’t worried about taking it coast-to-coast to the rim. That seems like a minor detail, but that sort of aggression is encouraging from a player who missed over 6 months with a lower-body injury. More importantly, he made four 3-pointers.
JUSTISE WINSLOW IS BACK, BABY!
Okay, I won’t act like that is the case, or that he erased any of the struggles that he has had over the past month or so. I say month, because he had a good stretch of time where he looked pretty good before his injury. Last night, it was just nice to see him good basketball things out on the court.
What does this mean in the long view?
Well, there’s a team option for next season that’ll need a decision this offseason, so I’m not sure. I’ve become pretty whatever on it. If they opt in, it’s fine, and they’ll be banking on a healthy offseason for him to work on his game. If he doesn’t pan out, he’s a large expiring contract or a buy-out candidate. If they opt out, I really hope they use that cap space to actually make a splash.
Nonetheless though, last night’s game was a bit mind-easing in the sense that we saw that Justise Winslow can still do productive things on the basketball court. Granted, will it be 25-13-4 on 4-6 shooting from 3 and high usage every night? No. But the playmaking, good positional rebounding, off-the-rebound offensive initiation, and a sprinkle of outside shooting? Yeah, that’s something that can happen.
Say what you want, but Justise Winslow hooped last night. We’ll save the rest of the conversation for the offseason.
- John Konchar continues to shine. Konchar built on his strong performances from the Detroit, New Orleans, and Chicago games with another great game. He continues to do all the little things — hustle rebounds, good transition offense, and solid team defense. His 3-point shooting though has been eye-catching, and it’s something he’s said he’s spent a lot of time on. Keep an eye on John Konchar. He’s got a neat future in this league.
- Killian Tillie! Two-way player Killian Tillie showed such an interesting arsenal. He’s a big with size that can put the ball on the floor, defend in space, and hit outside shots. That’s a valuable skillset to have in today’s league, even at the fringe role player scale. Just a wonderful game for Tillie, who got his first NBA start. His offseason situation will be interesting to monitor.
- The super-productive Xavier Tillman. Tillman’s had a strong post-All-Star break run. He became a rotation casualty once the team became fully-healthy, and last night he stood out in extended minutes. He has awesome chemistry with his teammates in the pick-and-roll, possessing excellent roll timing for a rookie big man. Whether he sticks in the rotation or not remains to be seen, but you’ll know Tillman will be ready to contribute when his number is called.
Last night was fun, care-free basketball — something that every Grizzlies fan needed before this stressful week of this massive regular season finale and the play-in tournament next week. I hope you all enjoyed last night’s game and getting to watch young players look to build towards a nice, prosperous NBA career.