Philadelphia 76ers: Cassius Winston is good for the Summer (League)

(Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
(Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /

On Tuesday, the Philadelphia 76ers made their second financial commitment of the week to a point guard by picking up Shake Milton’s $1.98 million team option.

‘… wait, second?’ Yes, you read that correctly, Milton was the second financial commitment the Sixers made to a point guard during the final week of June, and by Thursday, they will certainly add a third to the ledger, whether that’s via James Harden picking up his team option or agreeing to a long-term deal at a lower per-year number.

But the first? Well, that was signing Cassius Winston to their Summer League team, where he is expected to play alongside the likes of Jaden Springer, Julian Champagnie, and Michael Foster Jr. in Las Vegas next month.

Why, you may ask, is it such a big deal? Well, you must not have watched much Michigan State from 2016-20, as those Spartans teams were really good, and Winston was the man Tom Izzo trusted with running the floor.

Cassius Winston is built to play for the summer Philadelphia 76ers.

Alright, before we get too into the weeds of things, let’s address the elephant in the room right from the jump: Cassius Winston probably won’t make the Philadelphia 76ers’ roster this fall. Yes they have two open roster spots, yes the team could use another “pure” point guard on their roster, and yes, there’s no restriction on retaining his services moving forward if he really worked out well in the summer league and then training camp but realistically, that feels like a tough ask for a player who averages 1.9 points and .7 assists per game on a little under five minutes of play per game.

With that being said, Winston isn’t your typical two-way player agreeing to a Summer League deal following an unsuccessful attempt to make a team. No, Winston is a 24-year-old former two-time All-American who was the Big 10 Player of the Year in 2019 and then led his team to three-straight conference championships; a player with big game experience and an innate knowledge of running a successful offense.

Over his final two seasons at Michigan State, Winston averaged 18.7 points, 6.7 assists, and 1.1 steals per game while draining 45.5 percent of his shots from the field and 41.3 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. While it would be hard to call Winston a positionally-diverse defender, as, at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, he isn’t exactly a big point guard, his abilities at the other end of the court are what you would call pesky, and, as T.J. McConnell can attest, that can get a player paid in the NBA.

That on-field production ultimately did get Winston drafted, as he was picked 53rd overall by the Washington Wizards via the OKC Thunder and ultimately played out two seasons on two-way contracts as a seldom-used, deep bench reserve. Though his production was better in the G-League, where he averaged 15.2 points and 4.4 assists per game for the Capital City Go-Go in 2021-22, it’s tough to tell how that would translate to the NBA, as Winston only recorded double-digit minutes in four of his 29 games with the team.

And yet in the Summer League; all of that is very important. His time at Michigan State is important, his time in the G-League is important, heck, even his limited run with the Wizards is important. Why? Because it will help him to run the show for the Summer Sixers and thus allow his teammates to showcase their skills as they look to make the roster.

Players like Filip Petrušev, Jaden Springer, and Charles Bassey will get the ball exactly where they want them, the coaching staff will know that their offense is well run and when the team goes on defense, Winston will give opposing ball handlers fits.

Is this enough to get Winston onto the roster? No, probably not, but if the Sixers opt to keep only 14 players with a guaranteed contract in order to have maximum flexibility near the trade deadline, it could earn Winston a camp invite where he could find himself afforded an opportunity to compete for a roster spot.

That path worked out well for Gary Payton II, didn’t it?

Next. Picking up Shake Milton’s option was the right call. dark

If the Philadelphia 76ers want to use their stint in the Summer League to evaluate their roster, which is what it’s for, having a veteran point guard running the show will make that proposition a whole lot easier. It’ll help the players, help the coaches, and potentially help Cassius Winston, too, as it could afford him a ticket to camp, and maybe even a contract in Delaware if things don’t quite work out.