Cassius Winston is the straw that stirs the drink for Michigan State. The 6-foot-1 guard out of University of Detroit Jesuit High has averaged a team-leading 18.8 points and 7.6 assists per game for the Spartans this season, leading them into Sunday’s Elite 8 matchup with the Duke Blue Devils (5:05 p.m. EST, CBS).
His assist rate in No. 2 in the country according to Ken Pomeroy, and he stretches defenses with a 40 percent rate from behind the arc. In 3 tournament games so far, he has racked up 21 assists to go with 56 total points.
He most impressive outings this season came against rival Michigan, as he led the Spartans to 3 wins with a combined 64 points. He notched a double-double with 14 points and 11 assists against the Wolverines in the Big Ten Tournament final.
You’d think with this level of production at a major program that Winston would be chomping at the bit for the NBA Draft. However, without much interest, the junior guard can actually return for another season to terrorize Big Ten defenses.
He arrived in East Lansing as a 4-star prospect in the 2016 class per 247 Sports. The site ranked him as the No. 35 overall player, as well as the second-best in the state (behind Kansas guard Justin Jackson).
By November of his freshman season in 2016-17, he was starting for Tom Izzo. In his first 2 seasons, he averaged just under 10 points per game, but dished a healthy 6 assists per contest.
Even with his appearance on the Naismith Player of the Year midseason watch list, he’s not really getting any NBA love. That spells a 4th year in East Lansing. Let’s take a look into his standing on mock drafts and projections.
Cassius Winston NBA Draft Projections & Mock Draft
This February mock draft from Rob Dauster of NBC Sports is very wing and big man heavy. However, he has Duke’s Tre Jones going No. 17 to the Brooklyn Nets. Dauster admits that Jones “needs to become a better shooter for this pick to payoff value.” The Blue Devil freshman is scoring just 8.6 points a game off 24.6 percent shooting from 3-point land.
For comparison’s sake, Winston averages over 10 points more, nearly 20 percentage points more from 3 and also dishes out more assists. Winston is also only an inch shorter. The only explanation would seem to be that the Spartan junior doesn’t have as much room to grow as the freshman guard out of Durham.
Our own Jon Adams also left Winston off his draft board. Most egregiously, Bryan Kalbrosky of Hoops Hype lists 83 players on his aggregate mock draft. None of them are from Michigan State. In fact, rival Michigan lists two Wolverines in Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole there, despite lower production overall.
One player who has shot up draft boards is Purdue’s Carsen Edwards, who notched a pair of 40-point games against Villanova and Virginia to lead the Boilermakers to the brink of the Final Four.
A performance nearing that on a huge stage against Zion Williamson and Duke could do similar things for Winston. If he also gets the better of Jones, that’s a pretty visible comparison point for a ratings bump.