Winston draws comparison to NBA-great Steve Nash for high basketball IQ
TULSA, Okla. — When Miami Hurricanes head coach Jim Larrañaga took the podium Thursday for NCAA Tournament media day, his scouting report for the No. 9 Spartans didn’t consist of typical match-ups.
Larrañaga compared the Spartans to players around the Atlantic Coast Conference to help his players familiarize themselves with how MSU plays. Junior point guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. was compared to Syracuse’s John Gillon, and freshmen forwards Miles Bridges and Nick Ward were equated to Duke’s Jayson Tatum and North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks, respectively.
But when Larrañaga got to freshman point guard Cassius Winston, he couldn’t find an appropriate analogy in college basketball. He hesitated because there wasn’t a player with Winston’s
“Cassius Winston for us is a very high IQ basketball player,” Larrañaga said. “Really knows how to play, and get a pass and a shot for himself. But he's most dangerous at finding an opponent and getting the other guys going.”
As Larrañaga struggled to find an accurate match for Winston, he went on to players in the NBA. That’s when the lightbulb lit up.
“Quite honestly, there are not a lot of players in the country that play at that high level of basketball IQ, so we had a hard time finding a good comparison at the college level,” Larrañaga said. “So we used an old NBA player, now retired, named Steve Nash, and said how important it is when Steve Nash played for you to be ready because he could find the open man with brilliance. And we find Cassius Winston to be that kind of point guard.”
When compared to the eight-time All-star, two-time Most Valuable Player and future Hall of Fame point guard, Winston was shocked.
“That’s huge,” Winston said. “That’s a legend in the game and being compared to that, I’ve been compared to a lot of legends. It’s a lot of pressure and a lot of excitement. If I keep working maybe that’s where I can end up. Who knows? It’s an honor.”
Larrañaga isn’t the only one to draw a parallel of that caliber when talking about Winston. Head coach Tom Izzo said Winston undoubtedly has the potential, it’s just a matter of time.
“I think there
Winston admitted there’s still a lot of work to be done until the comparison is totally accurate. His defensive ability has been a work-in-progress all season, especially with setting up ball screens.
After the Spartans disposed of No. 8 Miami, Izzo said Winston played well on the defensive end. For Winston, playing with a defensive edge is the next step in becoming that Nash-like player.
“Of course it starts on the defensive end,” Winston said. “I can’t be a liability on the defensive end, and tonight I wasn’t really a liability, so it allowed me to get in the game, go up and down, get a sweat going, see the game and what was happening. If I can do that then I can make plays.”
Going into Sunday’s game against No. 1 Kansas, Winston scores 6.7 points and shoots 42.1 percent from the field while averaging 20.5 minutes a game. Winston has only started five games this season but has played in all 34 for MSU.
“My role on this team is not necessarily to be a scorer," Winston said. "I keep the defense honest, they can’t just sag off me or play off me because I can score the basketball. So to get a shot, hit a three here or there, just to open it out or keep the court spread.”
As Winston continues to mature on the offensive side of the ball he still controls MSU’s pace on the floor, Winston leads the team with 174 assists on the year, giving him an average of 5.1 a game.
Even though there are calls from fans to start
The day will come for Winston to find stardom. It’s just going to take time.
“Everybody wants the process to be sped up so fast,” Izzo said. “And you know, as he gets stronger and better and a little more experienced, you know, he’s working on some things. He’s improved. He’s had a great week of practice. So I hope Jim’s right.”