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Spartan Freshmen Looking to Follow the Path of Michigan State NBA Draftees

High School Basketball: McDonald's All-American Games Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I want to take the time to reflect on Michigan State’s recent draft picks to see if any parallels can be drawn to this season’s incoming freshman class. Hopefully it will provide a better idea of how long Spartan fans should expect to have the new guys on campus and if/when they may be drafted.

All of the recruiting rankings are done using 247 Sports, which is a composite recruiting ranking between some of the best sites.

2012 NBA Draft:

Draymond Green

  • Class of 2008
  • Four Star, National Rank: 62, Power Forward Rank: 19
  • Drafted: 2nd Round, Pick 35 overall
  • Seasons Played in College: Four

2014 NBA Draft:

Adreian Payne

  • Class of 2010
  • Five Star, National Rank: 22, Center Rank: 5
  • Drafted: 1st Round, Pick 15 overall
  • Seasons Played in College: Four

Gary Harris

  • Class of 2012
  • Five Star, National Rank: 19, Shooting Guard Rank: 6
  • Drafted: 1st Round, Pick 19 overall
  • Seasons Played in College: Two

2015 NBA Draft:

Branden Dawson

  • Class of 2011
  • Five Star, National Rank: 17, Small Forward Rank: 4
  • Drafted: 2nd Round, Pick 56 overall
  • Seasons Played in College: Four

2016 NBA Draft:

Denzel Valentine

  • Class of 2012
  • Four Star, National Rank: 129. Small Forward Rank: 28
  • Drafted: 1st Round, Pick 14 overall
  • Seasons Played in College: Four

Deyonta Davis

  • Class of 2015
  • Four Star, National Rank: 26, Power Forward Rank: 7
  • Drafted: 2nd Round, Pick 31 overall
  • Seasons Played in College: One

Incoming Freshman Class of 2016:

Miles Bridges:

  • Five Star, National Rank: 12, Small Forward Rank: 3

Prior to Deyonta Davis’ early defection after last season, it was very uncommon for Tom Izzo to have a player leave after just one season in East Lansing. It is also uncommon for Izzo to have a recruit ranked this highly on a national basis, so Bridges looks like an exception to the aforementioned rule. His placement in the draft will be largely be made on the basis of his play this season. No matter what, at this point he seems like a lock for the first round even if he under performs significantly.

With Denzel Valentine not returning, Bridges will get every opportunity imaginable to prove himself and showcase his talents. Giving a guy with his skills that kind of a platform to perform is a recipe for that individual’s success and it should show come draft day in 2017.

Joshua Langford:

  • Five Star, National Rank: 20, Shooting Guard Rank: 3

Langford will look to benefit this year from a necessity for shooting in Michigan State’s backcourt. He could also be thrust into the fire and asked to play point guard more than he is expecting as a freshman if Winston is not ready to play significant minutes. Despite not being well versed at the position that should not be an issue for Langford as players do not turn down opportunities to see the floor on a Tom Izzo team.

With a loaded draft class in 2017 it is fairly unlikely that Langford will decide to remain in the draft past evaluations, but his talents are going to get him to the next level sooner rather than later. If he can become a primary scorer and focal point of the offense as a sophomore while improving his shot and ability to handle the ball then he could be a good fit in the 2018 NBA Draft as a late first, early second round guy.

Cassius Winston:

  • Four Star, National Rank: 33, Point Guard Rank: 5

Winston’s potential NBA fate will likely be determined based on players in up-and-coming recruiting classes. Heading into this season, Winston will be the second point guard on the depth chart and the chances of him passing Tum Tum Nairn Jr. are slim. This means that Winston will need to establish himself as a starter in the coming seasons and prove himself. If Izzo recruits any top rated point guards, however, Winston may never be able to find his opportunity to see the floor for extended periods of time.

That said, there is and will be competition at every level of basketball. As long as Winston can take advantage of his season as a backup and learn how to control the offense, he will already have a leg up on any incoming guards for the 2017-2018 season. Four years seems like a reasonable time frame for Winston to work on his skills and get himself NBA ready, but that process could be accelerated if he can earn himself significant playing time this year to carry into more opportunities in the future.

Nick Ward:

  • Four Star, National Rank: 41, Power Forward Rank: 12

Nick Ward is the beneficiary of walking into the situation involving a Spartan frontcourt that is in flux. If he can be an immediate contributor, he will quickly earn more minutes and set himself up on a path for success. If he is not at the level of play required for Big Ten competition this year then he could run the risk of being marginalized in the coming years with future talented prospects coming to East Lansing.

Look for Izzo to put Ward on a similar development track to that of Branden Dawson who had to play roughly 20 minutes per game as a freshman in a similar situation to the one Ward is entering. Dawson’s minutes never shot up exponentially, but his efficiency and impact while on the floor was night and day comparing his freshman year to his senior season. If Ward can teach himself to do the little things like rebound and defend, Izzo’s trust in him will increase and when his senior year finally rolls around he should be quite the talented college player with NBA potential.