It's now been just over two weeks since Chris Allen's career as a Spartan was terminated. As I've contemplated the fallout from that event, it still seems to me that the biggest impact will be on the freshman season of Keith Appling. Appling goes from the second perimeter player off the bench to the first--if not a potential starter, with Korie Lucious coming off the bench. It's hard to see a scenario where he doesn't play at least 20 minutes per game right off the bat. Appling comes in very highly touted, but that's still a pretty high-pressure situation to step into on a team hoping to contend for a national title.
So what can we reasonably expect from Appling? Projecting the performance of incoming freshmen is obviously not a scientific task, but we can look back at what other freshman guards who have been asked to play substantial minutes for MSU have done in recent years. A table showing key offensive stats for freshman guards who have played more than 15 minutes/game for Tom Izzo over the last 10 years is after the jump (I've deemed Alan Anderson and Raymar Morgan to be full-fledged forwards, BTW).
- Not a lot of offensive polish there. Only 4 of the 8 players had offensive ratings above 100, and only Chris Hill was above 105.*
- With the exceptions of Drew Neitzel and Travis Walton, all of the players were fairly involved in the offense, posting usage rates of at least 19.
- Taking Hill out of the equation, there aren't many good shooting numbers there. Shannon Brown and Kelvin Torbert were pretty good inside the arc (they were also the two guys with the most developed bodies coming in as freshmen). Maurice Ager and Kalin Lucas were pretty good from distance.
- Nobody was too assertive going to the rack. Travis Walton was the only player with a free throw rate above 30, but that was just a function of never shooting from the field.
- The ball-handling hasn't been terribly efficient. Marcus Taylor and Neitzel passed the ball productively, but also turned it over frequently. Hill was adequate. Ager, Brown, and Torbert didn't attempt too many passes. Walton spent a lot of time tossing the ball to the other team.
- Kalin Lucas is the model: High usage rate, adequate shooting numbers, very good ball-handing figures. Can't ask a non-John-Wallian point guard to do much more than he did as a freshman.
Overall, it's not really an encouraging picture. To be an efficient piece of the offensive puzzle for this season's Spartan team, Appling will need to exceed the median performance of freshman guards at MSU over the last decade. The positive spin is that, of all the players on the list below, Appling may compare best to Lucas--a player with less impressive size who can nevertheless overcome contact to score off the dribble.
Further, while Appling will be asked to play substantial minutes as a freshman, he may be be able to get away with a lower usage rate than most of the players listed above. Lucas, Durrell Summers, and Draymond Green will take care of the playmaking. Appling just needs to knock down open shots and--even more importantly--avoid mistakes on defense.
Bigger picture, the goal will be to replicate the freshman seasons of Taylor and Neitzel: get to the Final Four despite relying on an inexperienced (and perhaps inefficient) contributor in the back court. Of course, this team has its sights set even higher than a Final Four appearance. Mr. Appling, your future awaits. Now.
*Looking at his statistical profile, I have to say that Chris Hill had a somewhat underrated career. He never posted an offensive rating below 110, with higher usage rates than you normally see from a 3-point specialist. Even as a senior, when he went through the epic 3-point shooting slump that eventually led to Drew Neitzel starting at point guard, Hill posted a very good offensive rating of 119.2, thanks to a stellar assist rate of 31.6.