by Najee El-Amin — 

There is no definitive study on how many days an NBA player must go without playing before performance rust settles in.

However, conventional wisdom would suggest that the 380 days that passed from the time Memphis acquired Justise Winslow to his first real-game appearance would meet most any measurement for a rust alert.

After being acquired from the Miami Heat, a game-ready Winslow on Saturday night stepped onto the FedExForum court for the first time in a Memphis uniform. For the record, it was an evening on which the Phoenix Suns crushed the Grizzlies 128-97.

Notwithstanding the disappointment of losing, the wide margin and the absence of fans because of COVID-19 safety protocols, Winslow’s return delivered get-your-feet-wet satisfaction.

“It was a great day. I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time. … Just being out there competing was fun,” said Winslow.

“It’s been a hell of a journey. Tonight was just a glimpse of the iceberg, just getting my feet wet.”

After being on the shelf for so long, Winslow had noticeable rust to shake off. He missed nine straight shots before connecting on a three-pointer. His 21 minutes of playing time yielded nine points (three-of-14 shooting) and seven rebounds.

And, the defensive-minded Winslow was able to slow down the Suns’ All-Star-caliber Devin Booker, who finished with a game-high 23 points and five assists.

A Houston native, Winslow was drafted in 2015 by Miami Heat and has been shaped into the ideal defensive stopper. At 6’6”, 222 pounds, he’s been able to keep up with many of the league’s best scorers.

That is when he has been able to compete. Winslow has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. He’s only gone under the knife once (to get a torn labrum repaired in 2017) but smaller injuries have taken a toll: sore left wrist (out 16 games), knee strain in 2017 (14 games), a back injury in 2019, and most recently, a hip injury in 2020.

The Grizzlies (13-13) of late have shown the need for help on defense. Last week (Feb. 16), New Orleans blew out Memphis by 31 points (144-113).

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins says he will be patient as guard/forward Winslow works his way back into the lineup.

“I said before the game, I just want him to attack, go out there and compete and he just found his groove,” said Jenkins.

“He’s the ultimate pro, he’ll find his way. He’s just gotta work his way back into NBA shape. He will be back to normal Justise very, very soon.”

Notes and next

  • Two of Memphis’ top weapons, Kyle Anderson and Grayson Allen were benched to rest.
  • Brandon Clarke and Dillon Brooks were both held out because of injuries.
  • No timeline has been announced for the return from injury of Jaren Jackson Jr. The Grizzlies selected him as the fourth overall pick of the 2018 NBA draft.
  • The undermanned Grizzlies got off to a slow start and never recovered. Memphis was down 31 points at the half and that was the deficit when the game ended.
  • All-Star hopeful Ja Morant scored 12 points and had five assists.
  • The Grizzlies were set to take on Luka Dončić and the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night (February 22).