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2020 NBA Draft: A shortened offseason could favor drafting Cassius Winston

2020 NBA Draft: A shortened offseason could favor drafting Cassius Winston

The Washington Wizards are likely to have a lottery pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2020 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Cassius Winston

Team: Michigan State
Position: PG
Age: 22
Height: 6-1
Weight: 185
Wingspan: 6-5

2019/20 stats: 30 G, 32.7 mpg, 18.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 5.9 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.0 bpg, 44.8 FG% (6.2/13.8), 43.2 3PT% (2.4/5.6), 85.2 FT%

Player comparison: Kyle Lowry

Projections: NBC Sports Washington N/A, Sports Illustrated 41st, Ringer 34th, NBADraft.net 56th, Bleacher Report N/A

5 things to know:

*Cassius Winston is an elite player and one of the household names within this NBA Draft class. At Michigan State, he never shied away from the big moment and has been the face of the program since he became a starter. Twice he was named a consensus All-American and was named the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2019. 

*Winston is a household name because he is older, much older than all the prospects that will be taken ahead of him on draft night. He's 22, not the typical age of first-round draftees. Rarely do four-year guys have the option of getting drafted in the first-round with Buddy Hield being one of the few outliers. Winston suited up for the maximum four years at Michigan State. This could be a hindrance for some teams wanting to develop young talent.

*Already, the point guard is entering one Hall of Fame. Later this year he will become a member of the Catholic High School League Hall of Fame. In Michigan, he went to the University of Detriot Jesuit High School where he led his team to a state championship and was named Mr. Basketball of Michigan. 

RELATED: DOES RUI STILL FALL TO THE WIZARDS IN A 2019 REDRAFT?

*The biggest asset of Winston's game is his basketball IQ. Even during this season when Michigan State won a share of the Big Ten regular-season title, head coach Tom Izzo said he relies on Winston's leadership to help get the team to where they needed to be. Winston always makes the right decision and has a history of winning at a high level. Through his experience, he is also fully developed in several aspects of the game. What you see is what you get. 

*Winston is also a phenomenal shooter that will lead him to success at any level.  Throughout his entire college career, he shot an outstanding 43% from 3-point range and 85% from the free-throw line. Shooting translates well. Point guard is the only position he's really ever known - and where he is best utilized - but could be a great off-ball shooter. 

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Fit with Wizards: For several prospect profiles, we've dove into whether the Wizards would take a point guard - one that could be a franchise guy or otherwise. The more likely scenario is drafting a backup point guard in the second round than Washington spending their first-round pick at the position when they have John Wall. But, Shabazz Napier and GM Tommy Sheppard's intent to re-sign Napier would likely push that off the table as an option. 

There's no reason for the Wizards to sign Napier to a multi-year deal and draft a polished point guard that would be ready within a couple of seasons. 

One difference for Winston as opposed to other point guards that could fall to the second round, is that he is ready to go. Much like Rui Hachimura was in 2019, he would be ready to play and contribute from the start of the season. Washington would not need to focus on his development or worry about him getting acclimated to the NBA game. An abbreviated offseason without Summer Leagues will not help other draft prospects that may have a higher upside and go earlier in the draft. 

On the flip side, while the 6-foot-1 guard is fully developed, his ceiling is likely limited as compared to other prospects. His peak years maybe his first few seasons.

Winston can also run an offense and be trusted to have a second unit fill-in modestly. His 2.37 assist to turnover ratio reflects Wall's and far superior to anyone else on the roster. For years the bench has been a problem for the Wizards, Winston alone could bring it a step forward. 

Unlike other non-lottery point guards, shooting is not an issue for Winston. He's always been in a spot where he can run the show, but he is an elite shooter and could likely play in a No. 2 role to get reps with Wall and/or Bradley Beal. 

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Kevin Durant gives his NBA Finals predictions

Kevin Durant gives his NBA Finals predictions

While a number of teams are fighting to be the favorite heading into the NBA Playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers picked up a key endorsement from Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant.

When asked who he thought will win it all this year, Durant chose the Clippers defeating the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals and upsetting the No. 1 seed Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. 

"They're just so deep," Durant said of the Clippers on “Play For Keeps” podcast. "They haven't had their whole team together at once for a long period of time yet, and that talent is just undeniable. When you have [Paul George] and Kawhi [Leonard] at the wings, that's what you need to win is wings. You got those two at the wings, arguably top three, top four at the wing position on one team."

So far in Orlando, the Clippers have gone 1-2 after defeating the New Orleans Pelicans and falling to the Lakers and Phoenix Suns. As of now, they hold the two-seed in the Western Conference playoff picture and would face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. However, they are currently just a half a game ahead of the Denver Nuggets with five seeding games remaining.

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The Lakers clinched the one-seed last week and are up six games in the standings over their cross-town rivals.

ESPN’s playoff odds gave the Clippers a 10% chance of winning it all. They ranked third behind the Bucks with a 49.7% chance and the Lakers at 18.7%. 

Durant chose Los Angeles over his own team, the Brooklyn Nets, who are also in a good position to make the playoffs as the current seven-seed in the East Conference. However, the Nets are playing in Orlando without eight players including a number of starters like Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie and Durant, who missed the entire regular season after tearing his Achilles during the 2019 NBA Finals.

If his team retains the seven-seed heading into the playoffs, they would likely face the Toronto Raptors, who Durant projected would fall to Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals.

But regardless of seeding, Durant acknowledged it’s still anyone’s game.

“I hate doing that s---,” he said about predicting a winner. “You never know what could happen – you seen that with us last year.”

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Why Thomas Bryant's defensive showing against Joel Embiid could speak volumes for Wizards' future

Why Thomas Bryant's defensive showing against Joel Embiid could speak volumes for Wizards' future

The Wizards, as they are expected to be constructed next season, should be uniquely good on the offensive end. They could have Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans (if he re-signs), two of the game's most lethal shooters, spreading the floor. Rui Hachimura has the potential to be elite in the midrange and Thomas Bryant is one of the league's most efficient scorers around the rim.

Then, you have John Wall distributing the ball. There are three levels of offense and the Wizards could have all of them covered with a generational passer setting everyone up. That has the potential to be the type of offense with very little, if any, weaknesses. 

But the defensive end could be a completely different story. None of the aforementioned players are elite defenders and the Wizards posted the worst defensive rating in the NBA this season at 115.6.

That's what made a particular development in the Wizards' loss to the Sixers on Wednesday encouraging. Bryant more than held his own against Joel Embiid, one of the NBA's best offensive centers and arguably the league's most imposing physical force. 

Bryant held Embiid to 3-for-11 shooting while The Process went 8-for-11 against his teammates. Bryant had 19 total contested shots in the game and held his match-ups to 33.3 percent shooting overall. He blocked four shots, which tied a career-high.

"It was his best defensive game I've ever seen him play," head coach Scott Brooks said. "He was aware, he was anticipating, his hands were up and he jumped. If you just do those things, you give yourself a chance for a defensive stop at the rim. I thought tonight he was outstanding pretty much on both ends."

Bryant has some physical tools that lend themselves to the defensive end. He's one of the fastest centers up and down the floor in the NBA. And he has a 7-foot-6 wingspan. Of all players drafted since 2013, only five players have registered bigger wingspans at the combine: Mo Bamba, Bol Bol, Tacko Fall, Zhou Qi and Ike Anigbogu.

Bryant knows his potential on that end of the floor and how he hasn't really come close to reaching his full ceiling in the NBA. When told of Brooks' praise, he downplayed it as just one game.

"It's a step in the right direction. Keep improving every day, that's my main thing, especially on the defensive end," Bryant said.

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Consistency will be key. In the Wizards' previous game against the Pacers, Myles Turner went 5-for-5 while guarded by Bryant. In the team's season opener, DeAndre Ayton went 3-for-5 against him.

But if Bryant can establish some stability on that end, it could solve a lot of problems for the Wizards. Rim protector is again going to be a big priority for them this offseason, as it has essentially been annually. Finding solutions in that area is just very difficult to do. 

Teams that have good shot-blockers don't let them go and when they leave in free agency, they are expensive. If you draft rim protectors, they often take time to develop.

The Wizards, though, arguably need one now more than ever before. They are about to reinsert Wall into the lineup with a surgically repaired Achilles. As much as people have focused on his offense and how his speed could be affected, the defensive end should be the biggest concern.

The injury notoriously affects lateral movement and Wall will have to stay in front of NBA point guards, who are some of the quickest athletes in the world. Defensive structure around him could help compensate and a rim protector would provide a security blanket behind him.

Bryant has a long way to go to fill that void, and he knows it. But Wednesday was, like he said, a step in the right direction.

NBA.com advanced stats were used as part of this research

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