Michigan State Basketball: Strengths and Weaknesses of Projected 2014-15 Lineup

Brad Almquist@bquist13Featured ColumnistMay 4, 2014

Michigan State Basketball: Strengths and Weaknesses of Projected 2014-15 Lineup

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    Inevitably, road bumps will occur along the way for a team that lost arguably its three best players. Yet, the returning Spartans of 2014-15 have certain strengths to compensate for the inexperience, weaknesses and the unknown.

    Only two starters return, but pivotal complementary players will be back and ready to assume more magnified roles. Additionally, Tom Izzo reels in a solid recruiting class, headlined by the speedy Lourawls Nairn.

    Moving forward, it is time to analyze the potential strengths and weaknesses of this upcoming starting group, which is what this slideshow will feature.

Strength: Versatility

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    State boasts two of the most versatile players in the Big Ten at their respective positions. For a wing player, Denzel Valentine is as polished as they come. A 6’5” guard who can make any pass, dribble with elegance and knock down the open jumper, the onus will surely fall on him to do it all for the Spartans next season.

    He is widely considered one of the best passers in the conference, and his 37 percent three-point shooting percentage was a massive improvement from his 28 percent as a freshman.

    Valentine can play the point guard spot, as well as the 4-slot if Izzo wishes to play small. Through Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne’s incessant injuries, Valentine actually became the clear rebounder of the group last year, despite being a guard. In 14 of the team’s last 28 games, Valentine recorded seven rebounds or more.

    Alongside Valentine will be Dawson, a 6’6” athlete who plays like he is 6’9”. Dawson emerged at the most appropriate time in 2013-14, as he distinguished himself as the most outstanding player in the conference tournament.

    That was largely due in part to his perpetual effort on both ends of the floor. He protected the rim and guarded multiple spots on the defensive end, while finishing and facilitating offensively. Dawson can guard just about any position because of his elite quickness and athleticism.

    While he still must improve his all-around offensive game, he provides a mismatch nightmare for any team.

    These two players will lead Michigan State to desired heights next year. As they go, the team goes. The rest of the team’s versatility is much more confined, as most of the complementary players are specialists in certain regards.

    However, possessing two players like Valentine and Dawson will develop into a strength for this team.

Strength: Experience

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    State’s projected starting lineup features two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore. That is assuming that second-year guard Alvin Ellis starts, but if he doesn’t, then sophomore sharpshooter Kenny Kaminski could step in. Freshman Lourawls Nairn could potentially start as well, though he is much more poised than a typical first-year player.

    Dawson and Valentine will have multiple years of starting under their belts, and Travis Trice is coming off a postseason where he basically played starter’s minutes. Additionally, Matt Costello started sporadically last season and will now be a junior.

    That experience, combined with top-notch coaching, should suit the Spartans well in tight games and tense situations.

    State will lean on Valentine and Dawson in times of duress, but Trice has been known to step up in the spotlight. This team may lose three starters, but it returns a vast amount of experience from an Elite Eight squad.

Weakness: Limited Well-Rounded Scoring

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    Sparty surrendered its top three scorers to the NBA draft. Branden Dawson erupted late in the season, but much of his production stemmed from the work of his teammates. He made a living by camping around the baseline and finishing assists, as well as running the floor to clean up missed shots.

    Dawson is the least of Tom Izzo’s worries. Yet the rising senior still needs to develop more of a well-rounded offensive skill set in order to maximize his boundless potential.

    Denzel Valentine was probably the last scoring option out of last year’s starters, though he showed in spurts what he is capable of.

    First, he needs to take better shots. His 40 percent field-goal percentage is far too low, especially considering he shot a respectable 37 percent from behind the arc. He will have the scoring onus, alongside Dawson, so Valentine must develop a consistent shot and prioritize his shot selection with more intelligence.

    Alongside those two is Trice, a prolific three-point shooter. He poses a great threat from the perimeter, but that is where his production comes and goes. He must develop into more of a threat inside the arc, where he can look to score or create for teammates.

    Out of Matt Costello, Alvin Ellis and Kenny Kaminski, two of those players will start. Costello’s offensive game is restricted to layups and jump hooks, which he still needs to improve on. Conversely, Kaminski dazzled with his accurate three-point shooting (49 percent) last season, but he hasn’t developed an inside game just yet.

    Also, Ellis will need to progress in all phases. He only shot nine three-pointers, though he made four of them, so he will need to gain more confidence. All three of these players’ skill sets are fairly limited, which hurts the Spartans.

    Izzo’s players will need to work on their games in all areas in order to become a good offensive team. Right now, nearly every player has a glaring weakness in his repertoire.

Weakness: Lack of Size

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    Adreian Payne was one of the best power forwards in the country last season. With his services unavailable, the Spartans must find a new source to occupy the paint.

    Branden Dawson will start at the other forward spot, though he only stands at 6’6”. While guards Denzel Valentine (6’5”) and Alvin Ellis (6’4”) are certainly robust for their positions, Sparty is devoid of a big man who can fill the paint similarly to Payne.

    Matt Costello seems to be the leading candidate. He does have starting experience and has shown promise, but he has been nowhere near as consistent as Tom Izzo will need him to be in the upcoming season.

    Alex Gauna and Gavin Schilling are additional bodies who could possibly fill that void, though neither player has proven much at this point. Additionally, Kenny Kaminski proved his worth last year, but that was mostly from knocking down three-point shots.

    No current player on the roster has Payne’s athletic ability mixed with size and skill. But if any of those aforementioned players can improve enough to present themselves as a threat, it would be monumental for State. Currently, that remains too be seen, and this problem will continue to haunt this squad.