Don’t sleep on Justise Winslow on the Portland Trail Blazers this year

Justise Winslow is expected to play a big role for the Portland Trail Blazers this season. At a solid 6’6, Winslow has the ability to do a number of things at a position that this Blazers team has lacked for the better part of a decade.

The 26-year-old enjoyed a spike in playing time after being dealt to the Blazers, alongside Keon Johnson and Eric Bledsoe, for Norman Powell and Robert Covington in February.

Limited to just 11 games in Blazers colors – as the franchise openly dropped the standings – Winslow showed veteran skill and composure, able to compete on both sides of the ball, starting and playing nearly 27 minutes by night. Probably a nice advantage after barely seeing the ground on the then-still in contention Los Angeles Clippers, limited to 12.9 minutes per contest.

This coming season, the southpaw will return to the Moda Center in a contract year, providing the Blazers with a unique combination of size, speed, defense and ball handling from the forward position.

In his first six seasons with the Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies, the former Duke star played the majority of his minutes at small forward with a handful of shooting and power forward.

But last season, perhaps realizing he wasn’t the best shooter in the conference, he was pushed mostly to the four with moments at five.

It was a decent adjustment, with the former ninth pick unable to take his three-point shooting average above 30% since the 2018-19 season. It is, however, built like a ‘brick house’ – an Australianism meaning solidly built – while being nimble enough to keep some of the best and biggest wings in the league.

Ball handling

Winslow is one of the NBA’s most reliable forwards with the ball in his hands. Boasting a tight grip, above-average passing chops and natural pitch awareness, the former lottery pick should be able to help leading entertainers Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons and Josh Hart play the ball during stretches.

He has already done it. While playing just under 30 minutes per game with the Heat in 2018-19, Winslow was able to average 4.3 assists on 2.2 turnovers on the then retooled Heat franchise. And while injury may have slowed him down a bit, last season’s play showed he was still capable of running down a hill, dribbling through traffic and finishing or easing traffic.

Defense

On Feb. 9, just days after arriving in Portland, Winslow was tasked with guarding LeBron James in an unlikely Blazers win over the old Lakers foe Los Angeles.

While James still had an impact on the game, the Blazers probably wouldn’t have prevailed had it not been for Winslow who recorded four interceptions while keeping a plus/minus positive despite his minutes on the Taco Tuesday fan.

His defensive chops come from his innate basketball intelligence, that big frame, and his incredibly quick feet, helping him stay ahead of James. His short stint in Portland also produced his highest steal percentage at 1.7.

So while a lack of shooting will prevent Winslow from playing a small forward on offense, he’ll be able to comfortably guard positions three through five, a kind of versatility by Damian Lillard and co. have been lacking in recent years.

His place in the rotation

The Blazers actually have depth at the forward position after years through Al-Farouq Aminu, Robert Covington, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Tolliver, Noah Vonleh, Zach Collins, Skal Labbisere, Wenyen Gabriel and Jaylen Hoard.

Jerami Grant was brought to Portland from the Detroit Pistons to start four and has the ability and athleticism to start, compete and succeed on both sides of the floor.

Behind him are Winslow and Trendon Watford, two players ready to play minutes, providing a range of ability to this now versatile squad. Greg Brown III and Jabari Walker are also on four but are unlikely to see time at the start. Like Watford, Winslow can switch between fours and fives, thanks to his intelligence, energy and length, but probably not as much athleticism.

Good thing too, because with Jusuf Nurkic being the only full-sized center on the roster, Winslow, Grant and Watford, and in dire straits Drew Eubanks will be called upon to play in the two biggest positions.

The only real competition Winslow and Watford might have to worry about is second-round rookie Walker. But let’s not rush too much. For now, Winslow will have about 20 minutes a night to ply his trade on the pine.

Contract status

Winslow is in a contract year, which means he’s playing for his next payday. And for a guy initially touted as a highly touted prospect — apparently the Boston Celtics were willing to give up four potential first rounders to nab him in 2015 — he has yet to make much money.

That’s largely down to his injury history and every minute since the Heat traded him to the Grizzlies. Next season could be his best chance to rekindle those early years and deliver on the promise he showed Duke and the lottery selection that followed. Of course, he will leave the bench, but he will have every chance of winning this next contract.

But whether he finishes the season in Portland remains to be seen with general manager Joe Cronin aware that Winslow’s expiring $4million deal might be able to return something as part of a bigger deal. at the deadline.

Conclusion

While many still see the Blazers’ deal with the Clippers as a loss, the more time passes, the more the trade actually helps this franchise. In exchange for Covington who was unlikely to return and a bloated Norman Powell contract, Portland got a second-round pick, cap space Eric Bledsoe, a young and promising prospect in Johnson and a savvy veteran in Winslow. which is likely to prove important this season or as a piece in a future trade.

I’m a huge Winslow fan. I had actually considered him a hopeful target for the Blazers last offseason before he landed in Los Angeles. While Winslow’s lack of shooting will likely rob him of long minutes, he remains a valuable and youthful asset.

For this team, he’ll be able to relieve key Portland players of facilitation duties while providing just about anything the roster needs, other than long-range shooting.

Posted In NBA

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