Welcome to our preview series 2021-22 Clips Nation season, where we dig into something that interests us about each player in the upcoming season. Next up: what to expect from newly acquired Justise Winslow?
Full Enlightenment, folks: I’m a Celtics fan. As much as one can be a fan of a team playing a sport, I’m from the Boston Celtics. I assure you I am long from biased and maybe even a little too critical for the sake of proving how impartial I am. But if we have to trust each other – and I like this thing we have here, right? – I feel I should be completely honest with you. And I would make our relationship, Clippers author to Clippers fan, a disservice if I held it back any longer.
With that out of the way, I have something more I have to admit: I’m so jealous that Ballmer, Frank and Co. was able to snatch Justise Winslow out of the NBA’s free agent scrap in August. I hope you know how lucky you have been to have the opportunity to learn to love him. Winslow and I have had an angry, toxic love affair for some time now, and it’s incredibly unhealthy, while it’s incredibly fascinating. I want Winslow in my life, play basketball and steal hearts. I wanted him in 2015, and in hindsight, I consider myself lucky that my team could not take the step to get hold of him in the lottery back then. But every summer / contract year since, he has dominated my thoughts. The crooked ones drive to the rim behind a monster truck engine and shoulders the size of your average highway crossing … they haunt me.
There are many reasons for my obsession. Few players in recent NBA draft history have acquired as much raw, unbridled hype as Winslow. Midway through the 2010s, the former Blue Devil entered the league as promising and as exciting as any Duke alum since Kyrie Irving. He was marketed as a scorer, a defender, a slasher and a bruise, mostly the NBA’s version of The Steve Miller Band’s “Joker”. The idea of him in Boston did not yield as much bait as the thought of him thriving on the professional level; forget about my team, Justise, just prove me right, I’ll say to my television. For some reason, he never listened.
When it all went wrong – he has seen more setbacks than James Harden has stepbacks, and has only played more than 26 games twice in the last five seasons due to injury – but I did not tip over for me. I toppled on Winslow’s behalf and knew that somewhere in this 6’6 frame was (and is) a productive talent who could (and can) raise the ceiling on any lucky NBA team if all went well.
It’s just the hope that everything breaks down, has gone all directions but ever since he joined the league. He is now on his third team – and this group is without a doubt the best placed for battle. In five seasons with the Heat, his team never won more than 46 games; The Grizzlies won 38 last year in their singles entire season in Memphis, one condensed on it.
Winslow also enters a team without a true penchant for positional basketball, which may prove to be beneficial to him. Despite his setbacks and disappointing legacy to this point, Winslow has such a fluid skill to offer that he may in fact be one of the more positionally versatile players throughout the NBA. He defended the big ones and forced them into boxes unlike many other players who have the ability to do so, and although he does not do it nearly consistently enough, he does so in a way that makes you hear “HM ?! ” every time he fits.
Monday night, when the Clippers opened their preseason against the Denver Nuggets, Mann led the second unit late in the game as a de facto point guard along with Luke Kennard, Brandon Boston Jr. and Amir Coffey. That left Winslow playing center – a position he can certainly meet the requirements for, especially on a team with substitutability as his current hallmark.
Does he end up playing a little point guard? It will be Eric Bledsoe’s wheelhouse as the starter, but it’s not something Winslow is too good at in terms of skill. He finished with four assists, seven rebounds and a block in the pre-season opener, not exactly a glowing line but one that could prove valuable while rookie reserve point guard Jason Preston remains on the sidelines.
Honestly, it’s superfluous for me to continue to lob position questions Winslow’s way due to the fact that he’s apparently going to take on what’s necessary, depending on the rotation Ty Lue is laying on the floor. Just think of what “happened” to Batum on arrival: he started with power forward for a while before regularly wading in the water of the gaming center. Paul George was often the team’s primary ball handler last season; the same goes for Kawhi Leonard. Marcus Morris Sr., Reggie Jackson and Terance Mann saw all their position designations blur to the point where it became more appropriate for a shrugging emoji to sit next to their names on the lineup card than to say “SG” or “C” .
Winslow, for his honor, could not care less about what he plays, just that he contributes in some way. The disaster of a career he has maintained in relation to his first expectations has a great need for a makeover, and Los Angeles may well be the place for it. For the past few weeks – since arriving in Los Angeles, it’s worth noting – Winslow has posted an inspirational quote of some kind on his Instagram story every morning. 7.00 on the dot you can expect to see his whiteboard showing a person’s wise advice to the masses.
My favorite of late: “Whether in life or nature, some of the most beautiful trails can not be discovered without getting lost” – Dr. Erol Ozan.
Winslow’s road, in some ways, I suppose it could be considered beautiful. From a basketball perspective, he has seen tribulation after tribulation, trial after trial, but in an ideal world, those trials are the things that make him stronger. Just ask Kelly Clarkson. Or just ask those who have seen him closely, as long as I and many others have, in the hope that one day he will split the shackles that have exclusively linked him to injury reports and benches across this major league.
In May, Bryce Hayes wrote a brilliant piece for the Grizzly Bear Blues, detailing these attempts for a tee, writing that “Every night we actively watch him learn basketball again with a body drastically different from the one from the beginning of season 2019-20 ”, an unusual burden for any player to carry, and something that is particularly unusual for a player to stick it through. “The guy is human and trying to figure it out. The trials of Justice are not over, because obstacles will always exist – that is life. That said, don’t let the current stretch let you close the book on Winslow. ”
The Book of Justice is far from closed; it is being written. Perhaps its prose is not entirely eloquent at this point. But maybe Los Angeles is the place to be liberated to perfection … or close to it.