One Week In, Justise Winslow Says 'I've Found A Home' With The Trail Blazers

Justise Winslow readily admits that he was a bit more motivated than usual heading into Wednesday night’s game versus the Grizzlies in Memphis.

See, the 6-6 forward in his seventh season out of Duke, who the Trail Blazers acquired last week along with Eric Bledsoe and Keon Johnson from the Clippers in exchange for Norman Powell and Robert Covington, had played for the Grizzlies during the 2020-21 season and appeared in 26 games for the Memphis outfit. But when faced with the choice of either picking up Winslow’s team option for the 2021-22 season or letting him walk as an unrestricted free agent, the Grizzlies opted for the latter. For his part, Winslow understood the decision, though he didn’t forget it either.

“I had a team option and they didn’t pick it up,” said Winslow. “It’s no hard feelings but you remember that. They’re all good people, they make business decisions. It’s a business, I understand that... But they didn’t pick up that option, that’s something I’ll always remember, a chip I’ll always carry.”

So after putting up 16 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a steal in 33 minutes in Portland’s 123-119 victory versus the Grizzlies, Winslow made sure to remind the fans reaching out for autographs or high fives of what he had not forgotten, yelling “You didn’t want me here!” multiple times on his way to the locker room.

“I’m just trying to play aggressive and shoot my shots,” said Winslow. “Shoot my open shots, get to the paint, create for others. I was looking forward to this game. I wanted to bring the energy, I wanted to win this game for personal reasons. I feel like I did set a good tone to start the game and then we all kind of rallied behind each other, different guys took over at different points.”

Both the performance and the declaration served as a punctuation mark on an impressive first week with his new club. In his first six games, five of which have be starts, Winslow is averaging 11.2 points on 48 percent shooting from the field and 22 percent shooting from three, 7.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks in 31.0 minutes.

“I’m just so proud of Justise,” said first-year head coach Chauncey Billups. “When I sat down and talked with him when he first got here, he is just really starving for an opportunity to prove that he belongs. He’s been traded around, hurt and I told him, ‘You’re about to play for a coach that appreciates your style of play.’ It’s been fun coaching him. Ja (Morant) started to get going and Justise was the first one that said, ‘Let me take him. Let me try him.’ He guarded him for the rest of the game, but that’s what you want. I told Justise, now more than ever, guys like Justise, there might be a couple on every good team where they’re just like a Swiss knife. Put him out there, he makes plays, he’s smart, his IQ is really high, he’s tough.”

What’s more, Winslow has provided timely, yeoman-like efforts in key moments during Portland’s four-game win streak. He took up the challenge of guarding LeBron James in the Trail Blazers’ 107-105 victory versus the Lakers on Feb. 9, posted a double-double and rejected in spectacular fashion what looked like a certain dunk from Jordan Nwora in their convincing win in Milwaukee on Valentine’s Day and largely responsible for getting Portland off to a strong start Wednesday night with eight points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal in the in the first quarter.

“I think we’re building something really well, feeding off each other’s energy and playing really connected right now,” said Winslow. “So I think we’re in a good place heading into the break.”

Winslow, for the first time in a while, is also in a good place physically after suffering through a persistent hip injury for the better part of the last two seasons. But he’s shown no signs of being limited since joining the Trail Blazers, and has quickly convinced his new teammates that he’s much closer to the player who was selected with the 10th pick of the 2015 Draft than the the one who has now played for three teams in a little over a year.

“I think last game I said he found a home,” said Jusuf Nurkic, who has taken to calling Winslow “Bo Bo Bear,” a nickname given to him by his mother. “I think especially the way he defends, the way he push the ball, the way he can pass, even if he didn’t pass to me tonight. Serious, I think he’s tremendous, surprised all of us, I think, in a way. I remember him from Miami days, he was really good at that.

“The way he playing right now, I think his confidence is super high. I telling him to shoot the ball when you open, really try to ease his mind. Just play the right way and I think he does that, pretty much. For him to come in, to be able to have this big impact since he got traded, it’s huge for confidence going forward.”

While he’s only been a Trail Blazer for a week, Winslow was quick to state that he’d like to remain in Portland for the long haul. The city and its surrounding wilderness and the fans in Rip City made a quick impression on the Houston native, and with so many players on the team either getting a fresh start or having the opportunity to take significant steps forward, Winslow figures he’s landed in just the right spot at this point in his career.

“I was just traded here, I’m very happy to be here. God works in his beautiful ways,” said Winslow. “I’ve found a home. I don’t want to go anywhere, I’ve got one more year on this contact. It feels like everyone here is kind of fresh. There’s people in the organization that’s been here a long time but the coaching staff, a lot of the players just got here... I think it’s a good time for me in my life and also my basketball career.

“I like it, I go on walks, embracing the nature, the fans. I didn’t realize they were that good, getting blown out by 20 and they’re staying in their seats until the end of the game. I love it.”