While checking up on Jaren Jackson, Jr. and Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston caught my attention. Michigan State’s six-foot lead ball handler is not a potent scorer, magic passer or a difference maker on defense but plays very intelligent basketball on both ends.
The soon-to-be 20 year-old sophomore is the trigger man of an offense that is mid-post oriented, focusing on the wings getting their catches sprinting around down screens or playing through the big men in the elbows.
As is, Winston’s role is more controlling the pace of the game, keeping things moving and spacing the floor than creating off the bounce but when he’s been needed to drive, Winston has proven himself a very good passer on the move.
He doesn’t have the physical traits to be an elite defender but executes the scheme down to a tee. Unable to create events in volume, Winston brings value to the table by being someone who will be in the right place at the right time.
He has impressed a lot with his feel for the game, in terms of understanding the right moments to pass ahead and speed up the pace or to walk the ball up the court and prioritize running some half-court offense, which he subsequently continues to aid by keeping the ball moving.
When asked to breakdown the defense out of the pick-and-roll, he’s shown a lot of craft maneuvering his way in the two-man game. Winston can’t just turn on the jets to turn the corner on explosiveness but manipulates his man expertly around the screen to put him in jail and uses head fakes to tie up the helper and create a window to hit the roll man with a bounce pass or a lob toss.
He is not one of those magicians who anticipate passing lanes a split-second before they come open and hasn’t yet shown an ability to make passes across his body to the opposite end of the floor.
But Winston consistently manages to keep his dribble alive if a shot opportunity doesn’t develop right away and has proven he is able to take advantage of defenders helping one pass away, make wraparound passes in traffic to a big close by deep in the lane or probe under the basket to stress the defense late into the shot clock.
He’s assisted on 46.1% of Michigan State’s scores when he’s been on the floor this season, a mark that currently leads the NCAA, on a 2.9-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Winston can create a decent look for himself in isolation. Though he can’t just blow by his man out on an island and hasn’t yet shown a particularly deep arsenal of dribble moves, Winston can get around or create separation with some side-to-side shake and stop-and-start hesitations.
He can make a step-back jumper from the elbow if the defender doesn’t manage to contest the shot effectively and has flashed a floater to finish over length from the in-between area, nailing 47.6% of his 21 two-point jumpers so far, but isn’t a particularly aggressive shot taker, as his low 20.3% usage rate attests.
When he’s had a path to the goal and took it, Winston has struggled as an interior scorer. A speed layup appears to be his only method of finishing, as he’s unable to attack the basket with any sort of explosiveness or complete up-and-under’s around rim protectors – converting just 50% of his 20 shots at the rim and earning just 15 free throws in 12 appearances this season.
Winston offsets the fact he can’t get easy baskets by shooting the crap out of the ball on catch-and-shoot bombs. He’s nailed 46.4% of his 112 three-point attempts over his 45 games in college, including a scorching 61% of his first 41 this season, at a pace of 6.2 such attempts per 40 minutes.
Michigan State has deployed him as more of a spot-up shooter, though, as we are yet to see him take many shots on the move, whether it’s sprinting around staggered screens or acting as the backscreener on Spain pick-and-rolls. Winston has a low release but gets quite a bit of elevation and some of the pull-ups he’s taken in transition suggest they could do a better job leveraging his quick trigger.
Winston is not an elite individual stopper and doesn’t have the measurables or the athletic ability to create many events but has proven himself a very intelligent defender who can execute the scheme.
He is a proactive help defender who reads well when his teammate over-commits on a hedge or is about to get beat off the bounce, stepping up to pick up a roll man or clog up a driving lane.
On the ball, Winston works diligently to go over screens and hurry back to his man in a timely manner. Though he lacks the length to block shots or deflect passes from behind, Winston stays attached to his man all the way and is opportunistic looking for chances to poke the ball.
In individual defense, he gets down in a stance, has the lateral quickness to stay in front and some bulk in his 185-pound frame to contain dribble penetration by similarly sized players, though high end athletes have shown not to have that big an issue finishing around him.
 Date of birth: February, 28th, 1998
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara