After ending his Michigan State Spartans career with almost 2,000 points, two consensus second team All-America awards, and the most assists in Big Ten history, Cassius Winston is on his way to the NBA. He’s a member of a deep point guard class, including the likes of LaMelo Ball and Killian Hayes. Cassius fits into the second tier of point guards in this class along with Tre Jones, Nico Mannion, and Payton Pritchard. There is a very popular archetype amongst this second tier group of point guards as well, that being smaller on-ball guards with solid shot creation ability and spotty defense. Players such as D.J. Augustin, Jeff Teague, and Devonte Graham have shown that there is a place in the league for smaller guards who are much more proficient on the offensive end of the floor. Winston will draw a lot of eyes as teams start drafting into the late first and second round. Here are some of the best and most realistic fits for him:
Philadelphia 76ers (34th, 49th, and 58th picks): Philadelphia looked to Shake Milton to provide solid point guard play going into the bubble, and he did not meet the 76ers’ expectations. The only contracts coming off the books for this 76ers team are four minimum contracts plus two non-guaranteed minimum contracts still on the roster for now. Finding cheap point guard play is a necessity for Philadelphia this offseason. The 76ers have a ton of draft capital with three picks in the second round, opening up the opportunity to draft Winston. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Al Horford can cover for him on the defensive end of the floor. Winston can provide shooting gravity and open up slashing lanes for their wings. He could sneak into their eight man rotation as long as he consistently provides scoring from the perimeter.
New York Knicks (27th and 38th picks): The Knicks have lacked point guard depth and consistency for years. New York’s current group of guards going into the 2021 season includes Frank Ntilikina, a defensive-minded guard who had struggled during his first three years on the offensive end of the floor, and Dennis Smith Jr., who was relegated to G League minutes this year. To go along with that, New York needs floor spacers to allow RJ Barrett to get downhill and attack the rim. Kevin Knox, 32 percent on 3.1 attempts per game from three-point range, is statistically their best returning shooter. To compare, Winston shot 43.2 percent on 5.6 attempts per game from three during his senior year at MSU. Winston can provide high volume outside shooting to a team that should be focusing on developing their interior scorers during the 2021 season.
Orlando Magic (45th pick): D.J. Augustin will most likely be priced out on the free agency market, leaving an empty roster spot for a backup guard. Evan Fournier will most likely accept his $17 million player option. This leaves the Magic with just their Mid-Level Exception and Bi-Annual Exception to make signings in free agency. Drafting Winston would allow the Magic to spend that money on wings and floor spacers. Winston can manage an NBA offense and space the floor for an Orlando team that has lacked consistent point guard play and outside shooting (34.5 percent from three, 25th in the league). While most teams would have to worry about Winston struggling on the defensive end, Orlando has strong help defenders on the wing, as well as solid interior defenders.
Los Angeles Lakers (28th pick): The Lakers have lacked consistent half court guard play this year outside of LeBron James. The Lakers have been at their best in transition (13.6 percent of their points in fast break and 1.16 points per play, which rank second and sixth in NBA, respectively), but were below average when the ball handler finished pick and roll possessions (0.84 points per play, 17th in the NBA). Guards who play next to LeBron have two jobs. First of all, they need to stretch the floor and shoot a high percentage from three. Second of all, they need to be able to get a bucket in isolation or pick and roll when James needs a break. Cassius Winston can do both of those. Winston showed his self creation ability on the stat sheet as well. He drew fouls at a free throw rate of 0.33 (average is 0.26), while still taking over 40 percent of his shots from behind the three-point line. Like the teams listed above, the Lakers also have great interior and pick and roll defenders, namely Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, and JaVale McGee, to help him on that end of the floor.
Winston has a chance to immediately add value to an NBA rotation as a backup point guard on a low cost contract. He can contribute as a perimeter scorer that can create his shot as well as create shots for others. He was a leader in the MSU locker room, and that aspect of his game will translate well. Look for Winston to add his name to the list of Spartans on an NBA roster.