76ers

2020 NBA draft profile: Cassius Winston might not be a special athlete, but he’s a tremendous playmaker

2020 NBA draft profile: Cassius Winston might not be a special athlete, but he’s a tremendous playmaker

Cassius Winston 

Position: PG 
Height: 6-1
Weight: 185 
School: Michigan State 

Cassius Winston can’t dunk and is unassuming physically, but he put together a tremendous college career. The 22-year-old has the most assists and highest assist percentage in Big Ten history. He shined in a ton of important games over the past four years, being named Big Ten Player of the Year as a junior and leading Michigan State to a Final Four appearance. 

Strengths 

If you give Winston the ball at the top of the key and a screen, odds are he’ll make something positive happen, either as a passer or a scorer. Go under the screen? Despite elevating into his jumper with a pigeon-toed stance, Winston shot 43 percent from three-point range in college. Hedge the screen? Winston is great at shifting pace, staying patient and manipulating the defense. He’ll draw the defender out, wait until he’s in a bad position and capitalize on it. Blitz him? He enjoys setting up his teammates and is a skilled passer who can quickly hit the roller, fire the ball cross court if the defense overcommits or simply give it up to the open man on the perimeter.

Though he’s undersized, Winston still finds plenty of ways to score around the rim. By playing off the defense’s rhythm and expectations, he’s effective in the paint with layups and floaters that use unconventional timing and angles. He also shot 84.5 percent from the foul line at Michigan State and averaged 18.7 points per game over the last two years. 

Weaknesses

Winston is definitely not Allen Iverson, a 6-foot guard who was a blur in the open floor and could sky above players he was shorter than. He’s much more of a special basketball player than a special athlete. That means the large majority of his basketball skills still must work in the NBA. He likely needs to remain an above-average outside shooter, a highly efficient pick-and-roll player and a confident playmaker when defended by bigger, quicker players.

Another reason it's so important for his offensive traits to translate is that he’ll probably be vulnerable on defense. Though Winston did finish with 1.2 steals per game this season and rates above many of his peers in defensive effort and intelligence, he doesn’t have the agility or size to bother most point guards. 

Fit 

The Sixers haven’t had a stable backup point guard situation this year. Drafting Winston might be one way to rectify that, or at least to add another name into the mix. 

If he’s available at pick No. 34 or No. 36, Winston is worth serious consideration. His game lines up well with what the Sixers need — sharp, intuitive playmaking along with an impressive track record as a three-point shooter. Winston’s defensive deficiencies would also be less problematic here than in most other possible destinations, since the Sixers are sixth in defensive rating and obviously a very large team. 

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Sixers Talk podcast: New-look starting 5; What food would you break quarantine for?

Sixers Talk podcast: New-look starting 5; What food would you break quarantine for?

On this edition of Sixers Talk, we discuss which food we'd break quarantine for, the Sixers' new-look starting five and much more.

(2:16) — Richaun Holmes forced to quarantine after leaving the bubble for food.
(10:28) — Two players test positive for COVID-19 while inside the bubble.
(15:54) — With Shake Milton at point guard, it sounds like Sixers are leaning toward a new starting five.

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Why Shake Milton could thrive in strange NBA playoffs this year

Why Shake Milton could thrive in strange NBA playoffs this year

On March 1, Shake Milton introduced himself to the NBA world by dropping 39 points on the Clippers in L.A on national TV.

Not bad for a guy that was told he was out of the rotation before an injury to Ben Simmons thrust him into the starting lineup.

But that seems to be the story of Milton. He’s unflappable. Whatever his life or career presents him, he keeps moving forward.

As the Sixers continue their training camp at Disney World to prepare for the resumed NBA season, Brett Brown has been using Milton as his starting point guard, moving Simmons to the four. That means the 23-year-old that’s played 52 career NBA games appears to have the inside track on a starting job for a team looking to go on a deep playoff run.

No pressure or anything there.

There are people that just thrive in these circumstances. You can throw them in intense situations, and they act so calm you have to wonder if they even have a pulse. Milton’s imperturbable demeanor has likely helped him get to where he is. 

He was a freshman in high school when he lost his father. Myron Milton was just 43 when he passed away suddenly. The two were close and basketball was a big part of their bond. His dad told him to “just go out there and play like you’re the best player on the floor,” Shake said to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters.

The Oklahoma native was recruited to play at SMU by former Sixers coach and Hall of Famer Larry Brown, who said he “got lucky” in landing Milton over the likes of the University of Oklahoma and Indiana. Milton had a strong college career but that’s also where injuries became an unfortunate part of his story.

Milton suffered a hand injury that limited him to 22 games his junior year and final season for the Mustangs. A back injury presumably caused him to slip to the back end of the draft. After making strides at the NBA level his rookie season, he suffered another hand injury. Just three games into the 2019-20 season — and when it appeared he had a legitimate chance at a spot in the rotation — a knee injury sidelined him.

Ironically, injuries are what led to his next prolonged NBA opportunity. When Simmons went down, Milton stepped in and produced in a big way, averaging 17.8 points and shooting 60.4 percent from three over his last nine games before play was suspended.

All the injuries and time spent with the Delaware Blue Coats has led to this moment, where he could potentially be the team's starting point guard in the postseason.

“You won’t find a better kid than him, and somebody that really trusts the process,” Larry Brown said as a guest on the Sixers Talk podcast in May. “And Philly did a remarkable job with him. Playing in the G League in Delaware, Shake told me was huge. …

“The greatest thing is they had patience with him. They had some injuries and you never know when the opportunity is going to be there for you to show you can play.”

Milton has rewarded that patience already. Now, he’ll have to try to carry the momentum he built before the season was suspended onto one of the biggest NBA stages.

But it’s all part of Milton’s story and why if anyone can do this at a young age and with so little NBA experience, it could be him.

“There’s a poise that he has as a person that I’m assuming everybody on this call that has interviewed him feels,” Brett Brown said in a video conference call with reporters Tuesday. “And I think that can help him navigate through a pressure situation of the NBA playoffs. I do believe how he’s wired from a human perspective can help him deal with that environment I think in a more calm way.”

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