Entering the season, the unexpected (but entirely understandable) decision by Delvon Roe to end his basketball career a year early created a pretty big hole in the Michigan State lineup. Both Derrick Nix, after two seasons in the program, and Adreian Payne, after one college season coming off some very impressive high school accolades, remained major question marks in terms of being able to provide consistent, sustained productivity. Still, Tom Izzo had little choice but to hand the 5-spot in the lineup over to the two of them, and see what the results would be.
While there have been a few bumps along the way, the results have been about as good as we could have hoped for. Through 12 games of Big Ten play, Nix and Payne are averaging a combined 15 points and 7 rebounds in 37 minutes per game. The table after the jump provides a rough comparison of total production from MSU's center spot this season (Nix/Payne) and last season (Roe/Nix/Payne)--using conference-only numbers:
As great as Roe's contributions were to the program, he was never able to develop into a consistent scoring threat (largely due to the never-ending problems with his knees). Roe averaged just 2.2 made field goals per game in Big Ten play this season. Collectively, the MSU centers are producing 1.8 more made field goals per game this season while maintaining the same level of net free throw production.
The rebounding and block numbers are down a tad, but in the ballpark. (The decline in defensive rebounding production can be attributed to Draymond Green's gargantuan presence on the defensive glass. There are 10 players on a basketball court. But Green comes down one out of every three shots a Big Ten opponent misses.)
MSU has certainly missed Roe at times--particularly in the two losses against teams with nominal post guys who can shoot from deep (Northwestern and Michigan)--but, for the most part, Nix and Payne have more than adequately filled his shoes. Their defense against a more traditional post player on Saturday led to the following splendid factoid:
Despite playing the full 40 minutes, Sullinger did not catch the ball in the post inside the paint a single time against the Spartans.
To put the productivity of Nix and Payne in further context, here's what the combined stats of "Derrick Payne" look like relative to the three Big Ten centers in the mix for all-conference honors (stats are prior to tonight's games):
While Jared Sullinger and Cody Zeller are clearly more assertive/efficient offensive threats (adjusting for playing time), Derrick Payne is basically Meyers Leonard, except he's the second offensive option among frontline players, not the first. And, if one of him is in foul trouble, there's another one of him to put out on the court.
Finally, one more data dump:
|Central Connecticut St||29||19||9|
Derrick Payne has been pretty darn consistent. He's scored in double digits in 18 straight games. And Tom Izzo has trusted him to play at least 35 minutes in all but one Big Ten game.
And, hey, how about that power forward! Draymond Green comes in at fifth in ESPN's latest player-of-the-year straw poll. While I don't think he's going to catch Thomas Robinson and Anthony Davis in the hype race, he should be in the mix for a first team all-American spot. The problem is that all the highly-touted players at the national level this season are forwards or centers. Marcus Denmon (Missouri) is the top guard in the ESPN poll at #7 and Isaiah Canaan (Murray State) is the top point guard at #9.
What we need is a movement to get Green consideration as a first team all-American- . . . at the point guard spot. I don't think the voters vote on a position-by-position basis, but I assume that they generally try to approximately balance out their first-team votes by position, since the all-American team generally look like something you could plausibly run out on an actual basketball court. Well, Green ranks in the top ten in his conference in assists, and, when the MSU offense is really clicking, he's the guy initiating the action. He's even been known to lead the occasional fast break.
I propose, therefore, (and have already set into motion) the world's clunkiest hashtag:
Get to it.