Michigan State Basketball: Each Projected Starter's Most Concerning Flaw
Michigan State will transition into the new season with players whose early progression has head coach Tom Izzo ecstatic. In order to compete for the Big Ten crown, Sparty's key pieces must eliminate their most concerning flaws.
MSU surrendered three of its most polished and well-rounded players to the NBA. The two returning starters, Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine, blossomed at different moments last season, but both players still have deficiencies in their skill sets.
But their shortcomings are the least of Izzo's worries.
Travis Trice and additional role players from last year's Elite Eight team must amp up their production in 2014-15. Those returning Spartans, accompanied by a potentially dynamic 2014 class, inherit a lot of responsibility that must be matched with vast improvement.
Aside from Dawson and Valentine, most of the contributors are specialists. Those guys will need to round out their overall skill sets in order to keep defenses honest and alleviate some of the responsibility from Dawson and Valentine. If that happens, State will look to capitalize on a tremendously weaker Big Ten Conference than last season.
This slideshow will feature each projected starter's most troubling flaw and how he must improve it.
Point Guard: Travis Trice
Travis Trice's most obvious strength is his accuracy from three-point range. He has eclipsed 40 percent shooting in every year as a Spartan and set a career high with 1.5 makes per game at a 43 percent clip in 2013-14.
But that is where his threat as a scorer essentially stops. 59 percent of Trice's field-goal attempts came from behind the arc, which validates the sheer reliance on his outside jumper.
Trice's most glaring flaw is his ineptitude at driving into the lane. He actually has solid quickness and speed, but he uses that primarily to free himself by rubbing off screens or finding holes on the perimeter.
Moving forward, the senior must utilize his quickness in other ways. As a key orchestrator of the offense, he will need to penetrate more frequently, which will only provide shot opportunities for himself or relocating teammates.
Quickness isn't the issue for Trice. Rather, it is his inferior strength and reluctance to leave the perimeter that could potentially hinder his potential as the team's starting point guard and important scorer.
Quite simply, he must get stronger. Trice's 170-pound frame is unmistakably too light to excel in the rigorous and physical Big Ten. While he can get away with settling for jumpers because he is so accurate from deep, Trice's potential is severely limited because of his one-dimensional mindset.
In the offseason, he must add muscle while also adopting a more diverse offensive game. He will always serve primarily as a three-point threat, but if he combines his shooting and ball security with a willingness to penetrate, MSU's offense will improve exponentially.
Shooting Guard: Alvin Ellis
Ellis will start at the 2-guard spot, assuming Tom Izzo elects to approach the starting lineup traditionally. Denzel Valentine could start here while Branden Dawson moves to the other wing and Kenny Kaminski occupies the forward spot. Dawson doesn't have a wing's complete skill set, so by default, let's assume Ellis will start at shooting guard.
As a freshman, he didn't have the opportunities to assert himself consistently. Now with Gary Harris taking leaps toward his NBA future, Ellis emerges as a key player in State's upcoming campaign.
At 6'4", he is solidly built to compete in the Big Ten. The rising sophomore proved he could play at a high level and was never a liability on the defensive end.
Offensively, he shot the ball well. Ellis is an accurate perimeter shooter, but having only attempted 13 three-pointers as a college ballplayer, it remains unclear as to how he can consistently produce as an important contributor.
However, there were times last season when Ellis forced the issue and looked lost in the game. He would try to make a play when nothing presented itself, something indicative of an eager freshman.
One year later, he must eliminate those plays and let the game come to him. Maturity is something that will come as he gains more experience.
Additionally, Ellis needs to continue to add strength to his 195-pound frame. If he can enter the lane and finish through contact, that will only add to his effectiveness, as he already shoots the ball well.
Small Forward: Denzel Valentine
Poised for a breakout campaign, Denzel Valentine will enter the 2014-15 season with lofty expectations and major responsibilities to lead the Spartans in many categories.
He is a versatile scorer, a tremendous rebounder for his size and undoubtedly the team's best passer. Valentine's ubiquity on the offensive end is rare.
Defensively, he is stout. The 6'5" Valentine plays with physicality but is more than quick enough to contain smaller guards.
Even with such a versatile skill set, Valentine can still improve greatly in many areas. Once he does, he will morph into one of the premier players in the Big Ten.
First, he must finish strongly inside the paint. Valentine rectified his three-point shooting woes as a freshman by draining 37 percent of his threes last season, but his numbers inside the arc are only slightly better. His field-goal percentage of 40 percent is far too low and unexplainable for someone with his strength and touch.
He also tends to force ill-advised passes into congested areas. His commanding vision and ability to whip any pass can get Valentine into trouble.
Reducing those mistakes and improving his finishing around the rim are imperative to his potential as State's go-to guy.
Power Forward: Branden Dawson
Branden Dawson's outburst in last season's Big Ten tournament carried over to the Big Dance, where he nearly averaged a double-double. If that is the same Dawson who will enter the 2014-15 season, then he has a legitimate chance of becoming the conference player of the year.
Yet even in his dominance late last season, he still has room to improve.
Although he makes a living by running the floor, drifting around the baseline and finishing everything around the rim, he still has one glaring offensive flaw: jump shooting.
Dawson must establish a consistent jumper to truly emerge as unguardable. He actually made some 10- to 15-foot jumpers in postseason play, which is an encouraging sign for what he could bring into next season.
Teams will sag off him because they are so afraid of his capabilities once he enters the painted area. Dawson must start making opponents pay for providing him with that space.
Because Gary Harris left for the NBA and Alvin Ellis isn't a guaranteed starter at the 2-guard spot, Dawson may have to play on the wing if Denzel Valentine moves to the 2. Thus, if Dawson can't keep opposing teams honest with any outside shot, the team's lineup possibilities will be limited.
Defensively, Dawson is as versatile as they come. He can guard a variety of spots. Offensively, he has great hands and finishes exceptionally well, but he must develop a jump shot in order to maximize his potential.
Center: Matt Costello
The junior center excels on the defensive end. He protects the paint, alters shots and covers pick-and-rolls well. His offensive capabilities, however, are much more limited.
Averaging four points on 14 minutes played per game last season, he failed to present himself as an individual threat. Costello was the byproduct of Izzo's system and the playmaking skills of the guards, where he simply had to finish layups and dunks around the rim.
Moving forward, he must develop more of a well-rounded offensive game. He needs to progress in back-to-the-basket situations as well as face-up occurrences. He was afraid to shoot outside the paint, which hindered his potential on the offensive side and limited his playing time.
Now, he has to progress into a competent individual offensive player. He won't replicate Adreian Payne's production, but Costello must assert himself as a serviceable big man offensively.
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