RCP Interview: Blazers’ Justise Winslow talks hot start, playing point guard

Justise Winslow, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Justise Winslow, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

As this NBA season has progressed, the Portland Trail Blazers are one of the biggest surprises in the Western Conference. Defensively is where they have been able to do a total 180, and they found themselves in the top ten in total defense in the NBA so far.

The tone-setter defensively has been Justise Winslow, without a doubt. The Blazers’ defensive rating currently is 110.6. Averaging two steals and a block, I sat down with the former Blue Devil about the impact defense has had on their success.

“We have a lot of guys that are capable of doing a lot of things on the court and Coach Billups really puts us in a position to be successful,” said Winslow.

This is the first time in a while that the Blazers have had such interchangeable wing players that could constantly clog up passing lanes. Portland also can defend and switch while holding their own against larger or more elusive scorers. A small ball lineup of Josh Hart, Winslow, Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, and Jerami Grant has given teams trouble and has boded well for some comeback opportunities for the Blazers this season.

The eight-year veteran also talked about how he’s been able to display his value as a ball-handler and guard the best opposing player on the court. As Justise explained, small ball five lineups are valuable for this team:

"“It’s very good for our team in spurts, especially Dame. A lot of times me coming down guarding the five or or best perimeter wing, best perimeter player. You know, being able to get that switch, it just works really well for us defensively and offensively we are so versatile. I could be setting the screen. Or Josh. Or it’s Jerami. We have a lot of guys that are capable of doing a lot of things on the court and coach really puts in position to be successful. Defensively, it works really well. Offensively, you have to redesign roles somewhat on those small ball units, but we’ve been able to execute pretty well."

He mentioned Anfernee and Damian have become better defenders under the helm of Billups as well, however by the numbers, Jusuf Nurkic seems to be the one benefiting the most by having great defensive wing players beside him. Nurkic has found himself so far this season in the top 13 with a defensive rating of 105.9 and leading the team with a +5.0 defensive +/- according to RAPTOR

Justise is second overall on the team with a +3.8 defensive rating. Winslow has mentioned the High IQ guys defensively specifically from the wings have made the overall workload lighter per player and the improving defense of the Blazers’ backcourt has helped as well:

"“Even those guys have become great system players. I don’t believe this but a lot of teams would say ‘Dame or Ant,’ but even those guys have become great system guys. They don’t just get blown by and that allows us to make plays and for our rotations to be in sync. Outside of those two guys, I think everyone that has been getting minutes is a high IQ player and not only a capable defender. That’s what really helped our success. I think other teams would say Dame an Ant are their small guys, will they be able to guard? But they’ve been holding their own and it’s really helped our team."

Coach Chauncey Billups had a lot of pressure coming from all sides in regard to succeeding and being able to get Portland back into the NBA Playoffs. Billups has done a great job so far this season on and off the court to have these guys ready. Justise had a lot to say about the leadership Coach Billups possesses and what he expects out of everyone in the organization:

"“Coach has been great for us and knows what it takes to win. He’s a former player himself. Finals MVP, Finals Champion. He gets it. He knows what it takes to win. I think part of the reason he likes me as a player so much is that I remind him of some of those bad boys teams. Just that dog mentality that those guys played with. It’s been a lot of fun, he commands the respect of the team, but in a cool relaxed way. He’s not a big yeller, but he commands your respect. I think that is something that has really helped us get this far so far in the season. He holds everyone accountable and everybody respects him, likes him. They know where he is coming from. They know he is coming from a championship mentality. Just overall you know being an older black guy, he wants the best for us on and off the court, he gets it. Being a black guy in the league, in America. He wants us to do right on and off the court."

Having a leader of that nature in the times we are in only brings more comfort to these players. Billups spoke after the Phoenix Suns game about Justise’s elite decision-making when inbounding the ball and how he’s been elected as the guy for that. It was mentioned on past teams the former Blue Devil has always been assigned the late-game decision-maker for every team he has played on.

We spoke about the trust of being able to play point guard for this team off the bench and some nights in the starting lineup and what it means for the coaching staff to trust him with that responsibility.

"“It’s been good having Coach Billups trust us all. But to put the ball in my hand and trust me and be the point guard meant a lot. It’s a lot of responsibility that I embrace. A part of my game right now that does not get seen as much because of Dame Ant being great combo guards.”“The late bound inbound stuff that’s always been something I’ve throughout my career, execute that pass and I’m glad that the coaching staff, including coach, trusts me. “"

Every player comes into the league with the perception that everything will essentially fall in place for them. One city, one coach, and one team. But sometimes finding your home takes time and in Rip City with his grit, talent, and overall hunger fueling him to get better, Justise may have found a home in Portland.