With the NBA Draft coming up, a lot of the Michigan State basketball talk is going to be regarding star shooting guard Gary Harris, who is projected to be picked by one of the lottery teams this June. That might lead some to believe that Harris was Michigan State's most important player in 2013-14, but Adreian Payne (who is projected to be drafted late in the first round of the NBA Draft) was just as valuable if not more so to the Spartans' 2013-14 campaign.
Payne graduating means that Tom Izzo's team not only loses a veteran leader, but also one of its top rebounders and most efficient three-point shooters. Sure, Travis Trice shot the three ball with sharper accuracy than Payne, and Branden Dawson grabbed more rebounds per game, but there weren't many players in the country who could excel in both categories like Payne did last season. It takes a special player to shoot 42 percent from beyond the arc while also taking down 7.3 boards per game.
So how will Michigan State replace Payne's production in 2014-15? It won't be a one-man effort, as no one on the current roster can do all the things that Payne can. Here are some players that need to step up so that Izzo doesn't miss his big man too much.
We've already discussed on this website how important Dawson will be to Michigan State's 2015 chances. The rising senior had his best season yet this winter, scoring 11.2 points per game along with 8.3 rebounds per game and terrific defense. But can he replace Payne all by himself? Dawson certainly can't shoot like his former teammate can, but he is just as intimidating a shot blocker and is even better than Payne on the glass. After he returned from injury in March, Dawson found his scoring touch and the results were very encouraging for Spartan fans. With 50 total points against Harvard and Virginia, Dawson showed that he can be a top scorer when MSU needs him to be.
Costello saw some consistent playing time in January and early February, but he his role faded down the stretch as Dawson and Payne got healthy. In the NCAA Tournament, the 6'9" sophomore was down to less than 10 minutes per contest, but there should be more opportunity available this November. Now a rising junior, Costello needs to show some more of the rebounding ability that we saw when he notched a double-double against Iowa in late January. He'll never be counted on to put the ball in the basket, but Costello can give the Spartans some shot blocking and rebounding this season.
Kaminski isn't as skilled a defender or rebounder as Costello is, but one thing he can do is shoot the ball while playing forward. Last year as a freshman, the 6'8" Kaminski knocked down 38 of 77 three-point shots while playing just 12 minutes per game. He's unlikely to breakout into anything but a role player in his sophomore season, but Kaminski can do a lot to stretch the floor and create mismatches against opposing big men. He's the one man on Michigan State's roster who can provide the frontcourt shooting that Payne displayed in 2013-14.
Okay, so maybe there is another forward besides Kaminski who can shoot. Incoming freshman Clark is said to have both the shooting and rebounding skills that can make him a versatile playmaker in Izzo's lineup. At 6'7" and 220 pounds, Clark is a little small for a big man, but less-than-ideal size hasn't stopped Dawson from becoming one of the most physically intimidating players in the Big Ten. Michigan State already has some depth built up in the frontcourt, but if Clark can step in and contribute right away, the Spartans will be all the more prepared for life without Payne.