Scouting Michigan State basketball players in Lansing's Moneyball Pro-Am

Derrick Nix tries to get position to rebound during the Moneyball Pro-Am at Lansing Sexton July 10. Photo: Patrick Hayes

For basketball fans in the Lansing area who can't wait for the season to start, you're in luck. There are still a couple of weekends left in the annual Lansing Moneyball Pro-Am League.

This year's league, organized by former Lansing Everett star and NBA player Desmond Ferguson, features current Michigan State players Draymond Green, Derrick Nix, Keith Appling (although he's been away with Team USA), Adriean Payne, Dwaun Anderson, Branden Dawson, Brandan Kearney, Travis Trice, Alex Gauna and Brandon Wood. There are also a few former Spartans on rosters — Charlie Bell, Marquise Gray and Kelvin Torbert — and a collection of college players from Central Michigan, Oakland University, Toledo and University of Detroit, among others, and several guys currently playing professionally overseas.

In short, it's a high level of competition with games Saturdays and Sundays at Lansing Sexton High School through Aug. 7. Check the website for rosters and game times. Admission is free.

Intrpdtrvlr and I were there Saturday and Sunday (respectively) checking out the action. Not all of the MSU guys played this weekend, but below are our scouting reports on who saw action.

Draymond Green

Intrpdtrvlr: Draymond has proven himself enough that there wasn’t much I was going to seriously "scout" about him in this one game.  He did make the undisputed play of the day in a 2TO victory for his squad.  Throughout the match-up, Day Day’s shot was not falling from anywhere, be it the free throw line or 3pt territory.  He was clearly frustrated at struggling in a game where he should have been the unequivocal best player on the court.  He finally got an open path in the lane, only to be confronted by Detroit-Mercy’s LaMarcus Lowe, a shot-blocking force who had double-digit swats that afternoon.  Draymond elevated with one hand up and viciously slammed the ball on top of Lowe.   Normally, I think of Green’s finishes as skilled and technical but this was a jam of angry catharsis that I don’t see often from him at MSU.  The play brought the house to its feet and filled the air with hollers and cheers.  It was so wild that even LaMarcus Lowe went back down the court with a smile on his face. Quite the moment.

Branden Dawson

Patrick Hayes: I have to be honest here: I really try not to get overly excited about young players, even very highly recruited ones like Dawson. After watching him Sunday, it's hard not to think he will be able to make an impact immediately at MSU. The first thing that stands out is his build. He's a legit 6-foot-6 (I won't say who, but let's just say a couple other guys appeared nowhere near their listed heights up close), but more impressively, he's already muscular. He definitely didn't look like a guy who is fresh out of high school.

His athleticism is well-known to those who have followed his high school career. He's long, fast and can jump, and he showed all of those tools. But what really stood out to me were his hands. In the first quarter of his game Sunday, a guard attempted a lob to him but botched the pass. Dawson jumped, saw the pass was off, landed and then quickly jumped again, caught the ball as it caromed off the backboard and still finished with a dunk. He was actively moving without the ball, cutting to the basket and his guards were finding him with passes that were too high and too low and every time, it seemed, Dawson was able to adjust, make the catch and usually finish.

He also showed off a nice post game. The opposing team had to guard him with smaller players and Dawson frequently sat up on the block, got good position, made quick moves and scored. He appeared equally comfortable playing inside or handling the ball on the perimeter, although his jumper and ball-handling were the definite areas he'll need to shore up before the season.

Intrpdtrvlr: This was my first time seeing any of the incoming freshmen in person so it’s very different to be 15 feet away from someone (beauty of MoneyBall) as opposed to watching a YouTube video.  I had the same reaction as Patrick: Dawson definitely passes the look test.  With a muscular physique and long frame, he’s simply bigger and badder looking than most of the other players on the court.  I’d say he’s almost the exact same height has Draymond Green in the neighborhood of 6'6".  I can definitely buy this guy as a professional athlete and 2013 NBA Draft pick. 

As I mentioned on twitter, the best surprise of the game I watched was impressive passing and a good court sense for finding open teammates.  Even in the loose format of the MoneyBall exhibitions, this was a trait that Dawson was able to demonstrate on a few occasions putting out something extra with a no-look.  His exhibition was a back and forth, 2OT epic so elements like this had to sneak out with no opportunity for he and Day Day to dominate.  In addition, Dawson nailed one fall away jumpshot that showed promising form and he won his team’s game by catching and scoring a lob at the buzzer. 

Derrick Nix

Patrick Hayes: It's becoming a yearly ritual to discuss Nix's weight loss efforts, but he looked easily the lightest he's been at MSU. He appears to have worked on his body and conditioning quite a bit. Pro-Am games are up and down, and though Nix was the biggest guy on the court in his game, he didn't seem to labor or lag behind the smaller and faster athletes he was playing against.

He flashed some decent post moves and improved footwork, though his repertoire around the basket is still a bit unorthodox. It worked against the smaller players guarding him Sunday.

I was most impressed with his defense, though. Let's face it: offense isn't what is going to earn Nix consistent minutes. If he can't defend or rebound, he's going to face up and down minutes once again. He actually looks like he's made strides. He was unafraid to switch onto perimeter, twice even switching out and manning up lightning quick Central Michigan wing Trey Zeigler.

Intrpdtrvlr: I’ve heard Nix has put together some excellent performances at MoneyBall so I offer the caveat that this is only one person’s opinion about one day of one exhibition event.  The best and worse parts of Nix’s game were on display Saturday.

For the positive side, he has an authoritative, confident approach to post offense that hasn’t always been present in MSU bigs.  On multiple occasions, Nix would challenge his man, back him down with strength, and use an impressive arsenal of footwork and pivots to get right to the basket.  At this point, it would fall apart.

What I thought was Nix’s major freshman year challenge re-appeared.  Only inches from the hoop, he would repeatedly miss the final lay-up.  Nix must have left 10 or 12 points on the table from not being able to put the ball in after earning himself great position and an easy look.  I recognized Nix's physical improvement but had a different reaction than Patrick.  I thought that Nix still needs to work to look like the player from last year’s team pictures. 

Brandan Kearney

Intrpdtrvlr: Overall, Kearney was the bright spot on Saturday out of the MSU incoming players in action.  He was aggressive and active (his buzz word) shooting the ball.  Not always needing a wide-open setup, he made moves to get just enough separation and knocked home many midrange shots with no touch to the rim.  Kearney had one particularly nice run in the second half when he scored on multiple possessions in only a couple of minutes.  

Brandan also did the other things that have given him the reputation for versatility.  He made solid attempts to box out on defense rebounds and charged to the lane to get his hands on his own teammates’ misses.  On defense, Kearney resurrected the post presence he used to pester Matt Costello in the state playoffs.  He does all this while being 6’5” and undeniably skinny.  Still, he absolutely looked like a basketball player in this game. 

Patrick Hayes: Of the three freshman wings coming in — Kearney, Dawson and Anderson — Kearney appears to need the most time in the weight room. He's long, skilled and athletic, but could use a little extra weight on his frame to help him defensively.

That said, he still showed the unselfish and heady play that made him a standout in high school. The knock on Kearney is that he's too unselfish at times and doesn't look for his own shot enough. That might actually serve him well at MSU, though. Anderson and Dawson were scoring stars who always looked for their shots in high school who will have to adjust to being role players initially in college. Kearney is already comfortable in that regard.

It would be nice to see him more aggressive, but his strengths are along the baseline. He moved really well without the ball, used screens effectively and had a few really nice baseline jumpers on quick catch and shoots. His ball-handling and passing were solid too.

Dwaun Anderson

Patrick Hayes: Anderson, who played at the small Sutton's Bay in high school, appears to have put on some muscle since I last saw him at the beginning of the high school season. Anderson was the most athletic player in Michigan as a senior, and his highlight reel capabilities are what helped earn him high major attention. He didn't get much of a chance to show it Sunday as his opponents did an nice job of getting back defensively against him, he nearly hammered a dunk down late in the game but was grabbed and pulled out of the air before he could finish.

But although the highlights are nice, the quicker Anderson shows evolution in the other parts of his game, the quicker he'll earn minutes. His passing was really far along in the pro-am. Twice, he got a step on his defender and instead of going all the way to the basket, drew an extra defender and hit a cutting teammate with perfect bounce passes through traffic. Anderson's passing ability was underrated in high school because of his gaudy scoring numbers, but he really was an unselfish player who tried to setup teammates, and now that he's playing with high major college athletes who can finish more efficiently, expect him to get more assists.

Intrpdtrvlr: Dwaun had a rough game and never appeared to get comfortable on Saturday.  Some of the MoneyBall teams are organized out of players who know each other well and others are more cobbled together.  Anderson’s Team Black may have suffered from some chemistry issues that hindered their ability has a whole.  Kelvin Torbert and Charlie Bell’s “Flintstones” were beyond worthy opponents, too!  The offense didn’t naturally come Dwaun’s way and, unable to create an open look, he resorted to a series of fall-aways and contested jumpers that produced the likely result of predominantly misses.  He was also overshadowed some by the more experienced Trey Zeigler, who looked very skilled and composed to lead the offense.

To leave with something positive, Anderson never let up his effort even as the game slipped away from him.  He kept looking for teammates, going to the basket, and working on defense. 

Travis Trice

Intrpdtrvlr: Along with Kearney, I was really pleased with what I saw out of Travis Trice.  Small and quick, he is probably a naturally fast guy but his skills with the ball make him even more of a threat.  Trice has an impressive handle, dribbling very quickly straight ahead and using both hands and a combination of switches to move around the court with ease.

Trice is the sort of player you watch up close and recognize immediately as a real point guard.  He had a nice feel for the total court and made some crisp passes.  He’s a smaller player but he’s not what I would call even close to "scrawny."  Trice attacked the lane with confidence but his size hindered his ability to absorb contact and still score the basket.  However, he’s a tough guy to stay in front of and his willingness to take hits should make him valuable for drawing fouls and getting to the line.  I walked away even more convinced that Trice will be a legit contributor on Day One at MSU.

Patrick Hayes: My first thought looking at Trice was that he's too small. He looked tiny out there. Then the game started, and he was all over the court.

He's really quick with and without the ball from baseline to baseline. Three times in his game, he ran back defensively and deflected long outlet passes to cherry pickers that looked like they'd be easy breakaways. He has a nice, compact shooting stroke and was solid taking care of the ball.

He'll struggle defensively against bigger guards, but he did show a willingness to battle. He got caught in the post on one possession against the bigger Zeigler, got backed down some, but then came up with a strip.

Alex Gauna

Patrick Hayes: Gauna redshirted last season, but should factor into the big man picture this year with the transfer of Garrick Sherman. The good news is Gauna appears to have added more muscle. The last time I saw him play was at a high school All-Star Game last summer and while he was big for a high school player, he clearly was going to give up some strength to bigger college players.

I didn't see him in many post-up opportunities, but he was really good moving without the ball (two of Anderson's dump-off passes were on Gauna cuts), he finished effectively inside and, most importantly, he was active on the offensive glass. On one play, he split two defenders to get an offensive board on a free throw and tip it in.

Intrpdtrvlr: I did not see Gauna but reading Patrick's thoughts, I have to add a "Whoa, Gauna's gotten bigger?"  I had the luck to get some courtside end seats last season and, as the players passed me upon their exit, no one jumped out more (even Nix) than Gauna as a powerfully constructed guy.  He has some mean shoulders.  A more built Alex Gauna will be something to see.

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