Cassius Winston goes to the Washington Wizards: Here’s what they’re getting
By Brendan Quinn Nov 18, 2020
Perhaps Rocket Watts, a Michigan State teammate, summed things up best. On the surface, Cassius Winston is as likable and approachable as a star athlete can be. On the court, he doesn’t talk smack or showboat or make it about himself. At the same time, though, Winston is a cold-blooded, calculating point guard who plays at his own pace and embarrasses opponents with a level of meticulous cruelty that defies his otherwise endearing disposition. The key is not to let the politeness fool you. As Watts put it: “That’s Cassius Winston, bro. He’s a bad-ass mother …”
And that’s what the Washington Wizards are getting after arranging a draft-night trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who picked Winston with the No. 53 pick.
Winston’s career at Michigan State stacks up with the likes of Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves. He led the Spartans to three straight Big Ten championships and a 2019 Final Four appearance. He would’ve done more if the 2019-20 season had never skidded to a halt. He scored 1,969 points and handed out a Big Ten-record 890 assists in 139 career games.
As an NBA player, Winston is difficult to peg, but worthy of betting on. His court vision is at the highest level and, if grouped with talented players, he will be an elite distributor. He’s a brilliant decision-maker in ball-screen situations and spaces the floor as a career 43 percent 3-point shooter. He has an inordinately deep bag of tricks, scoring with a variety of scoops and floaters and runners and bank shots and contorted layups. He has an endless supply of hiccups and hesitations that keep defenders off balance. He anticipates action and sees the game at a different speed.
This summer, three of the four NBA personnel members interviewed about Winston’s pro prospects compared his game to that of Monte Morris.
There are reasons, though, that Winston wasn’t taken higher than the 53rd pick in the draft after an All-America career. How he translates defensively is a significant concern. Izzo essentially tried to hide Winston on that end of the court, as much as possible. He’s crafty on offense, but not particularly quick on defense. He’s not a great athlete. He’s listed at 6-foot-1, but can’t dunk. He has struggled at times with knee tendinitis and had to receive platelet-rich plasma therapy.
When it comes to Winston, the talent overrides the physical shortcomings. “I’m going to get there and I’m going to find a way to stick and I’m going to find a way to make things happen,” Winston said. “Because that’s what I do. That’s been the story of my life. I’m going to figure out a way.”
In a virtuoso performance against Michigan, Winston scored or assisted on 20 of Michigan State’s 28 made field goals and finished with 32 points and nine assists. He was at his best down the stretch when the Spartans finished the regular season with wins over four straight ranked teams (No. 18 Iowa, No. 9 Maryland, No. 20 Penn State and No. 19 Ohio State) for the first time in 30 years. He averaged 20.3 points on 61.9 percent shooting and 7.0 assists per game in this stretch. In the finale against Ohio State, needing a win to clinch a share of the Big Ten championship, he scored 15 of his 27 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-5 3-pointers, in the second half.https://theathletic.com/2201477/