The 2016-17 Spartans will be significantly different from the 2015-16 team, but fans of the Green & White hope the results will be just about the same (at least in the regular season, anyway). In order to truly see what Michigan State will have to change next season, I made a list of each player leaving and envisioned how Tom Izzo plans to recreate their production this year.
Wollenman played in all but five games, averaging 6.2 minutes per game. There is very little production to be replaced here. Academically, however, Wollenman was a stud so the team GPA may take a hit.
Marvin Clark Jr.
Clark was a player expected to return, but he decided to transfer from East Lansing. He did not play that much, but he added value in areas that didn’t show up in the box score. Despite being only 6'6", he was able to play the power forward position in a stretch 4 role. This added depth to a frontcourt that was occasionally lacking in that department when foul trouble arose.
The frontcourt will most likely get taller in the upcoming season, so I expect a combination of new players to take over Clark’s interior playing time, but notably Ben Carter because he will be looking to fill the backup power forward position. Returnee Kenny Goins could also have access to some of Clark’s minutes in an expanded role next season.
Bess played sparingly, averaging only 11.4 minutes per game in 31 games played. He is a natural small forward, but often had to resort to playing the power forward position because of Denzel Valentine. I like Alvin Ellis as a possible option to take a number of Bess’s minutes. This will be especially true if the 6'4" Ellis bulks up this offseason. If not, Goins could get additional minutes in the role Bess used to play as well.
Davis had an up and down freshman year, but will surely be missed this year. He averaged 7.5 points per game with 5.5 rebounds per game. An effective player in the paint, he shot 59.8% from inside the arc. Incoming freshman Nick Ward seems to be the most capable of filling the minutes and production Davis was able to provide to last year’s Spartans.
Costello had a nice senior season, averaging 10.7 ppg along with 8.2 rpg. Gavin Schilling seems like the natural fit to replace a lot of the minutes Costello played. Schilling has been Costello's understudy so to speak for the past three seasons. Ben Carter will also have access to a few of the minutes Costello played. Whoever can grab more rebounds is likely to be rewarded with more playing time.
It will be tough to replace Forbes’s 28 minutes and 14.4 points per game, but it is his 48.1% shooting from deep on 233 shots that will be missed the most. If Josh Langford comes to East Lansing shooting lights out, he would seem like the natural replacement here. But due to the slim chance of getting that kind of long range production from a freshman, having a returning shooter like Matt McQuaid will be a nice luxury. This will provide Langford with a good environment to grow and develop until he is ready to step into a starting role.
It would be impossible to expect one guy to replace all that Denzel Valentine did for Michigan State. Averaging 19.2 points, 7.8 assists and 7.5 rebounds per game was impressive as is, but his contributions as a leader were just as important. I expect Tum Tum Nairn Jr. and Cassius Winston to split the duty of running the offense and bringing the ball up the floor, something Valentine could do so effectively.
As far as statistical production and role is concerned, top recruit Miles Bridges seems like the best fit. He can already do a lot with the basketball and if Izzo can make sure he is put into positions to succeed, his talents will shine through at the small forward position. Don’t expect Bridges to have as refined of a shot or skilled handles as Valentine had, but on a sheer point production level, Bridges is the best chance the Spartans have at replacing Valentine’s production. Matt McQuaid should also be relevant here from a minutes perspective at the small forward position as Bridges will be unable to play 33 minutes per game like Valentine did.
Clearly there is no cure-all or perfect way to replace the production lost for Michigan State. Fortunately for the Spartan faithful, however, the team will have a lot of options. Fans in East Lansing can (and will) rest assured that Tom Izzo will get the most out of his team and make sure the losses from last season are barely noticed.