In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, today, we take a glance at Michigan State guard Cassius Winston.
The 2020 NBA Draft is known for its relative lack of star power but, as the process continues, it is clear that there is depth in this class with regard to guard play. Much of that depth stems from experienced, steady-handed floor generals that can help NBA teams as low-end starters or high-end backups, and one such prospect is Michigan State’s Cassius Winston.
Winston, who stands at 6’1 and 185 pounds, arrives after four highly productive years in East Lansing, earning countless honors along the way. The 22-year-old lead guard isn’t known for flashy athleticism or highlight plays, but he was highly efficient at the college level and, beyond that, Winston is well-regarded for his leadership and basketball acumen.
Above all, his calling card in NBA circles is his perimeter shooting. Winston is unquestionably an elite marksman, knocking down 43 percent of his three-point shots in college on more than 600 attempts. He is also a tremendous free throw shooter, converting at an 85.7 percent clip in the last three years, and Winston carried a 29 percent usage rate with more than 60 percent true shooting in his last two seasons at Michigan State.
He is fully capable of creating his own shot, as a tremendous pull-up shooter and a highly skilled pick-and-roll operator. Winston ranked in the 84th percentile as a scorer in pick-and-roll settings (per Synergy), and he is lethal in floater range, demonstrating tremendous touch in a variety of ways.
From there, Winston is also potent in catch-and-shoot opportunities, which could make him attractive to teams that boast No. 1 offensive creators from the wing. In fact, Winston ranked in the 97th percentile in catch-and-shoot situations (per Synergy) last season and, simply put, he is one of the best shooters in the entire 2020 class.
Winston does have a relative weakness when he attacks the rim, which is certainly worth noting. While he does have a mature, effective floater game, Winston is limited athletically and he isn’t enormous, both of which factor into his sub-par numbers finishing at the rim. To take it a step further, it would be a surprise if Winston was ever an average finisher in the NBA, especially when accounting for the uptick in size and athleticism for opposing rim protectors. With that said, Winston’s shooting is enough to mitigate that weakness, especially when considering his effectiveness as a passer.
Winston’s craft as a pick-and-roll operator is second-to-none and, in addition to his scoring acumen in those settings, he’s also a high-level passer. Winston posted a 42 percent assist rate at Michigan State, averaging 12.6 assists per 100 possessions in his last three seasons, and he is the Big Ten’s all-time career leader in assists with 890. He isn’t always a “highlight” passer, but Winston makes the correct reads in the correct moments, and he has a knack for angles and situational awareness that should translate to the professional game.
On the defensive end, things aren’t as rosy, and that comes back to his lack of size and burst. Winston’s wingspan reportedly checks in at 6’5 and, if that proves true, that is a positive data point for a point guard prospect. However, he isn’t physically gifted when compared to other players at the position, and Winston’s lack of strength and quickness make it difficult to project high-end defensive impact.
More favorably, Winston improved by leaps and bounds as a defender during his college career and, as noted previously, he greatly understands positioning and angles in a way that should prove helpful. He also has quick hands and a willingness to compete. Those traits, coupled with an inevitable shrinking of the massive offensive workload he carried at Michigan State, could aid in Winston becoming a neutral defender, rather than a notable weakness on that end.
Situation will be crucial for Winston and, quite honestly, that is the case for the vast majority of prospects. If an NBA team puts him in a position to succeed, either as a backup that can run the second unit or a starter alongside a “primary” creator on the wing, Winston can absolutely return value as a late first round pick or a player snapped up in the second round. If a different franchise doesn’t set Winston up for success by forcing him into less advantageous situations as a primary initiator without a defensive infrastructure, the results won’t be as a favorable.
With regard to the Atlanta Hawks, there is a definite need for a backup point guard behind Trae Young and, as such, many of the veteran guards in this class could be in the mix. Based on intel and publicly available mock drafts, it seems unlikely that Winston will drop to No. 50 overall and, without a transaction, Atlanta wouldn’t be in a position to select him as a result. From a fit standpoint, Winston would be highly intriguing as a pure backup to Young but, at the same time, he is likely too small and defensively challenged to realistically play big minutes alongside Atlanta’s star lead guard.
Winston is seen in high esteem by virtually everyone in the basketball world, and his Michigan State career was tremendous by pretty much any measure. As he attempts to translate that in the NBA, stardom doesn’t seem likely, but Winston’s shooting, passing and overall basketball acumen should allow him to be a positive contributor at the next level.