To begin understanding Cassius Winston's ascent here at Scout, you have to travel all the way back to 2012. A freshman at that time, Winston already was turning heads in Detroit.
He made a strong impression as a rising sophomore when he attended the Elite 100. Already considered a combo guard, he filled up the nets from long range and on drives. He also showcased a solid understanding of how to play the point guard spot and run the show, never an easy task in a camp setting.
Over time, he continued to impress college coaches and scouts. His junior season featured an excellent campaign for Winston individually as well as for his team, which advanced to the state semifinals. Following that, he hit Nike’s EYBL circuit with The Family.
It didn’t take long for him to serve notice that he’d made even more progress. Winston was positively sensational at the first EYBL event, in Hampton, Va., where he topped the 30-point scoring mark in two of The Family’s four games.
But a broken wrist in May set him back several weeks. When he returned to the court later in the summer, he first played tentatively at the Peach Jam but then stepped on the gas as the week progressed. He maintained his deft shooting stroke and showcased the toughness and fearlessness that should serve him well his entire career.
His recruitment opened as one that mostly involved regional high-majors, but ultimately his interest expanded to both coasts. His finalists — Michigan State, Stanford and Pittsburgh — illustrated the point. His commitment to MSU gave the Spartans a characteristically tough and competitive signee.
Winston is a capable point guard who plays with greater balance than his numbers would indicate, but to be clear: Scoring is what he does best.
It’s tough to argue with the numbers he compiled on the EYBL circuit. He averaged 19 points in 14 total games, and that number likely would have been higher were it not for his injury. He shot 47 percent from the field — not bad for a point guard — and buried 42 percent on threes.
Winston’s stroke may not be textbook in terms of release or speed, but he undoubtedly possesses commendable touch. His range extends to 23 feet as well, affording him ample clearance when matched against taller defenders. He drilled 79 percent on free throws as well, and he averaged five assists per contest along with five rebounds — superlative for a point guard.
As his boards-work suggests, Winston is a tough guy. He embodies the Upper Midwest, blue collar competitive ethic to a tee. He fights for what’s his and also for what’s yours, at least until he takes it. That quality makes him a staunch defender, and he ripped away two steals per game on the national circuit.
Winston also does score on the move. While roughly one third of his attempts are threes, he utilizes good quickness and stop-and-go ability to bury short jumpers on drives. He doesn’t possess truly explosive athleticism but does handle the ball extremely well, relying on changing speeds and sharp dribble moves to knife into the lane.
He’s also a solid playmaker who keeps his head up on drives and defers as needed. Anytime Family teammate Miles Bridges (a hybrid forward who also averaged roughly 20 points per game) got hot, Winston happily looked for him possession after possession.
Winston stands just 6-0, so he lacks ideal size. As mentioned, he’s also a good, not great athlete, and that fact along with his height could limit his ceiling for the longer term.
From a skills point of view, the primary question he must answer is whether his jump shooting mechanics will translate to college and the pros. He shoots with a lower release point and relatively little follow-through, not unlike Houston Rockets guard Ty Lawson. Of course, Lawson has made that unconventional stroke work and perhaps Winston can achieve the same.
Winston should fit right in at the next level. Most freshmen struggle with the physicality of college basketball, but Winston already possesses a solid frame and definitely exhibits the mindset to compete ferociously.
That said, he might not shoot as well his freshman season due to the intensity of the defensive close-outs, and chances are he’ll need to become familiar with shooting over high screens and try to speed up (or raise) his release point.
But nitpicking one or two facets of his style misses the big picture, and Winston has proved that he doesn’t need a clean look to bury a shot. He possesses truly excellent concentration and self-belief, and it’s unwise to bet against a player who brings that type of competitive spirit to the hardwood.
Winston is the nation’s No. 28 overall prospect and a potential prep All-American next spring.