Anyone following the Michigan State basketball team this offseason knows how important the team's wings will be during the 2014-15 campaign. With Keith Appling lost to graduation and Gary Harris moving on to the NBA with Adreian Payne, much of the offensive weight will fall onto the shoulders of Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson. Although neither player has had a starring role for the Spartans in seasons prior, they've played well enough as role players to encourage an increase in responsibility this year. How they respond to such a change will go a long way to determining where Michigan State finishes in 2014-15.
Considering the questions at the point guard position for Michigan State (How will Travis Trice transition into a full-time player? Can Tum Tum Nairn be "the guy" right away), there's a chance that Valentine is the straw that stirs the Sparty drink this season. He's a 6'5" junior who is built out of the "point forward" mold with the ability to contribute in several areas. Last season he scored just 8.0 points per game but also handed out 3.7 assists and grabbed 6.0 rebounds. Valentine's three-point shooting accuracy rose from 28 percent during his freshman season to 38 percent last year, so he can stretch the floor as well as set up teammates. Expect Valentine to act as more of a guard until Tum Tum Nairn is ready to take over the point. After that, he'll act more as a forward.
Although Dawson rebounds like a power forward (8.3 boards per game last year), he's still in a wing's body at 6'6" and 225 pounds. No matter how big he is, Dawson's athleticism and leaping ability make him a fierce rebounder and a talented scorer at times. During the 2013-14 NCAA Tournament run, he exploded for 26 points against Harvard and 24 against Virginia. Was it a sign that Dawson is breaking out into a star player or just a blip on the radar? With Payne having moved on from the program, Michigan State needs Dawson to score as well as rebound, so watch for an improvement in his mid-range game this November.
A four-star recruit from Ohio, Javon Bess could see some minutes off the bench during his first season in East Lansing. At 6'5" and 195 pounds, he's a slashing small forward who knows how to get to the basket and can guard multiple positions on defense. With that kind of versatility, you have to figure that Tom Izzo finds a way to get Bess on the court, especially considering how the program is reloading this year. Although Bess could use some work on his jumper, his combination of size and ball handling skills make him seem like a miniature version of Valentine.