Michigan State can't live without Adreian Payne or Gary Harris. That much is clear.
Without their star power forward and shooting guard, the Spartans wouldn't hold Lindy's preseason No. 1 ranking (via MLive.com's Diamond Leung), nor would they be a favorite to reach the 2014 Final Four at Jerry's World.
Branden Dawson, though, has a dynamic skill set; he can score—he'll be a more potent scorer once he finds his shot—and he can rebound. At 6'6" and 220 pounds, Dawson isn't short on athleticism or physical nature. He's just as aggressive on the boards as big men, but he's just as quick and strike-capable on the break as guards.
And he's certainly no pushover on defense.
That makes him indispensable, just like Payne and Harris.
Subtract Dawson from the equation and the Spartans are left with a solid roster. However, Dawson fills needs that others can't or haven't. If Payne is slow around the basket, he provides energy with a rebound or put-back dunk. If Harris is having an off-night with scoring, Dawson has the potential to give double-digits to coach Tom Izzo.
Dawson Punctuates Lineup
A 20-point outburst against Purdue said a lot about Dawson, an Indiana guy who some expected to join the Boilermakers. The former Lew Wallace High (Gary, Indiana) 5-star recruit, per Rivals, showed immense passion of both ends of the floor during that 78-65 victory at Mackey Arena in February. It appeared to be more than a game to Dawson; it was like a personal beef settled on the court.
That's the type of player he can be on a nightly basis; not just once every so often.
Harris can threaten for 20, likewise for Keith Appling. But neither have the pure power and athleticism to rule offensive and defensive glass and guard the most physical opposing players like Dawson.
Dawson Hasn't Reached Potential
At this point, Izzo knows what he's going to get from Appling, Harris and Payne. They've established themselves as steady contributors and legitimate star athletes. Dawson, though, hasn't. He brings an unknown element to the fold. Of course he's good, he was a 5-star recruit. He's 6'6" and built to dunk. Physically, he's the total package.
Maybe it's the mental part because Dawson hasn't yet mastered the art of college ball. This is the year, or at least it should be. Now a junior, Dawson's progression could likely come to a head as Michigan State rolls toward March. With two years of Izzo on his resume, there's no reason to expect leaps and bounds of improvement from the wing man.
"This summer he's improved his shot," Izzo said of Dawson to Spartan Nation Radio (via MLive.com's Diamong Leung). "He's improved his body. I think he's had the best summer of his life, and I think he'll be ready for hopefully a breakout junior year."
Wings Are Part Of Izzo's Success
In recent years, the Spartans have had athletic wings/guards such as Durrell Summers, who had hops to go along with a decent perimeter shot. There was Maurice Ager during the 2005 Final Four run, and Morris Peterson contributed during the Flintstones' national championship in 2000.
Izzo uses those types of players to his advantage. They're seemingly always the X-Factor. Summers was for his team, and the same was true for Ager and Peterson. Each had star power around them, but if they were at their "beyond" level, Michigan State rolled opponents.
One More Year?
When Dawson arrived to East Lansing, one thing was thought to be certain: He wasn't going to play for four years. If not for injury, that would likely be true and this would his final season in school. But he may need to finish out his senior year if he wants to play in the NBA. His career thus far doesn't say "pro" at this point.
More seasoning is needed.
According to DraftExpress.net, Dawson is the No. 49-ranked prospect of 2014. His draft value will be determined by how well or how poorly he performs this year. Playing for a national contender helps, but if he repeats 2012-13, bank on seeing him kiss center court at the Breslin Center in 2015.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81