Some thoughts I have on Cassius Winston.
– Cash is the purest point guard we’ve recruited in a long, long time. In fact, I’d say in terms of pure instinct for the position and everything that goes with it, you have to go back to Cleaves to find someone in the same ballpark. That doesn’t mean he is or will end up as a better player than Neitzel, Lucas or Appling…just that right now, at the same age, he has better instincts for running a team and quarterbacking an offense than they had. I don’t even think that exists in the realm of opinion…seems to be fact to me.
-Cash isn’t a flashy point guard. Anyone expecting to see a smaller version of Denzel is going to be disappointed. His strength is decision making, plain and simple. His vision is outstanding and he makes the right pass, not the spectacular one. I think at MSU he’ll commit some turnovers because the offense is going to produce that…MSU forces you to take more risks than other programs and the price for it is the occasional mistake. However, I have zero doubt that this kid will mitigate those errors as much as anyone you could be plugging into that spot. That ability to see things develop early and make the right decision is what caused Izzo to put him in the conversation with Magic as a high school passer. Again, he doesn’t have nearly that kind of razzle dazzle to his game but in terms of seeing things develop sooner than others and delivering the ball to the right guy at the right time in the right spot? Yeah, I get where Iz was going with that, even if it’s a touch hyperbolic.
– His supposed weakness as a shooter is overblown. He has a funky release, that’s true. It’s not the worst I’ve ever seen by a long shot…we’re not talking Eric Snow reconstructive surgery or anything. The narrative on him in this area hasn’t quite caught up to the facts on the ground, as he made real strides over the last 12 months with his jumper. I noted the other day that he shot 45% from three in EYBL play. While I don’t have access to his numbers from UD’s season, having seen him play live three times last year, I can tell you that he’s just fine as a jump shooter. It will not end up as a major weakness, no doubt in my mind about that. I expect he’ll make gradual improvement over time as most MSU players do with their shots, but he’s starting from a pretty decent place already, so pay no attention to noise which suggests anything else.
– His real strength offensively is as a penetrator and finisher, though. He does not have elite quickness or size but those things aren’t necessarily prerequisites to be an effective penetrator at the collegiate level. In recent Big Ten history, I don’t think there was any better penetrator than Trey Burke. Burke was neither particularly quick nor was he any bigger than Cash (he’s actually a bit smaller, I think), yet he was successful because he had a good handle, knew how to vary speeds, shifting up and down a gear as needed, and he understood space and angles and how to use them. Cash is very, very crafty and effective in finishing in traffic and through contact. I’ve seen him do it against good size, so I have no doubt that will continue at the Big Ten level to one extent or another. His vision and instincts also help him create for others in those situations.
In the modern game, called the way it is, having guys who can break a defense down and get to the rim is invaluable. Cassius gives MSU that kind of weapon.
– I think he’s going to be good to very good defensively, in time. I haven’t seen a measurement on his wingspan but having seen him play a few times, I was always struck by the way he seemed to play “long,” meaning that he seemed to deflect a lot of passes and was able to cut off passing angles with his reach. I think that plus his toughness and generally through the roof basketball IQ will add up to him becoming a plus defender eventually. That end may take time, as it usually does for most players, but in the end, I think he’ll be a two way factor for MSU.
– The intangibles are important with him. I don’t think he’s quite a Tum/Walton/Green/Cleaves style guy in terms of being vocal all the time, but he’s clearly a leader. Watching him with his team, that was always obvious. He’s also shown to be a guy willing to step up in big moments and put the win or loss on his shoulders…making the play he did to beat Clarkston in the A quarterfinals this year was just one example. He’s the kind of guy you want running your team.
– I don’t expect to see him relegate Tum to 10 mpg. Usually, a guy who appears likely to end up as a starter for much of his first two seasons would automatically continue as a major minute player for his final two years. It’s a testament to how good Cassius is that I expect he and Tum to probably split the point guard minutes. Cash might be able to grab the occasional stretch alongside Tum as well, though with the wing group MSU is putting together, it’s tough to see much need there. I think both guys have strengths and MSU is well positioned at the point guard for the near and long term with these two in the mix.