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The Big Men of the Izzo Era


(. . . and the bloggers who loved them.)

This fall, there will be six big men on the roster: Delvon Roe, Draymond Green, Tom Herzog, Derrick Nix, and Garrick Sherman.  Of those players, only Delvon Roe came in as a big-time, sure-fire recruit.  We have a pretty good sense that Draymond Green has the necessary goods to be a major contributor for the next three years.  But, beyond those guys, it's a crapshoot.  You have a redshirt junior who hasn't shown major strides in his development and two incoming freshmen who may or may not be ready to play significant minutes right off the bat.

So the question is (something like) "How much can we trust Tom Izzo to turn these guys into reliable playing options?" To provide some historical context in which to discuss this question, I've compiled the following handy reference guide:

PLAYER RSCI G Min/G Pts/G FG% 3FG% FT% Reb/G Blk/G
Paul Davis 7 33 30.8 17.5 56.6 31.6 87.0 9.1 0.9
Andre Hutson ? 32 29.9 13.8 62.2 0.0 72.5 7.6 0.5
Antonio Smith ? 29 31.2 8.5 56.4 0.0 49.6 10.6 0.2
Goran Suton -- 32 26.7 10.4 52.1 43.8 84.8 8.4 0.5
Adam Ballinger -- 27 28.3 11.2 54.5 37.3 86.4 6.8 1.0
Zach Randolph 1 33 19.8 10.8 58.7 0.0 63.5 6.7 0.7
A.J. Granger ? 39 28.8 9.5 50.0 45.0 89.3 5.3 0.5
Adam Wolfe 88 17 20.9 9.4 46.7 46.2 82.9 5.0 0.8
Aloysius Anagonye 68 35 22.6 7.4 61.8 0.0 69.1 5.3 0.6
Marquise Gray 28 35 18.7 6.8 57.8 0.0 59.0 5.5 0.6
Delvon Roe 10 38 17.9 5.6 56.6 0.0 45.5 5.2 0.8
Erazem Lorbek -- 35 15.7 6.4 53.4 46.2 64.9 3.3 0.6
Dujuan Wiley -- 30 16.2 6.3 62.4 0.0 72.3 3.4 1.7
Matt Trannon 52 22 22.2 4.6 55.1 0.0 59.1 4.3 0.5
Drew Naymick 51 33 21.2 4.3 65.0 0.0 77.4 4.1 1.7
Draymond Green 95 37 11.4 3.3 55.6 0.0 61.5 3.3 0.2
Jason Andreas -- 30 14.1 2.8 55.1 0.0 90.0 2.3 0.2
Idong Ibok -- 34 10.3 2.0 67.6 0.0 51.5 2.3 1.0
Delco Rowley -- 30 7.6 1.0 54.5 0.0 58.3 1.1 0.1
Ken Miller -- 13 2.6 0.7 42.9 0.0 50.0 0.8 0.0
Tom Herzog 47 16 2.0 0.6 60.0 0.0 57.1 0.7 0.3

Bulleted technical notes:

  • Table includes every scholarship big man to become a Spartan during the Tom Izzo era--plus Matt Trannon.
  • Statistics are decidedly non-tempo-free.  Because they were easy to pull that way.  And they capture the amount of gross productivity a player contributed.
  • RSCI stands for Recruiting Services Consensus Index.  It's basically the average recruiting ranking for a player when he graduated from high school.  Data are not available for classes before 1998 (hence the question marks).
  • The stat line for each player is the player's peak season in terms of scoring/rebounding.  Generally, that's a player's final season with the team.  Exceptions: Smith (sophomore year; before better scoring options arrived), Ballinger (junior; slumped as senior), Gray (sophomore), Ibok (sophomore).
  • The following players left the program before their eligibility expired: Randolph (NBA), Wolfe (injuries), Lorbek (Europe), Trannon (NFL combine), Rowley (injuries), Miller (injuries).
  • The three active players going into next season are in italics; their stats are for this past season.
  • Players are sorted based on the fairly arbitrary statistical indicator of (Pts/G + Reb/G).  Again, the idea is to look at the degree to which a player was a contributor in terms of playing time and overall productivity.

Now to more substantive analysis, also in bullet point form:

  • Paul Davis is your outlier: The five-star recruit who stayed for four years and produced big numbers over his entire career.
  • After that you get to the Tom Izzo big man sweet spot, guys who didn't come in as big-time recruits but developed into championship-level starters: Hutson, Smith, Suton, Ballinger, Granger.
  • Randolph obviously would have climbed toward the top of the list had he stayed more than one year.  Same thing, to a lesser degree, for Lorbek.
  • Guys who didn't put up huge numbers, but had fairly satisfactory conclusions to their careers: Anagonye, Wiley, Trannon, Naymick.
  • Wolfe's numbers indicate he could have been a very good Spartan had a multitude of injury issues not interfered.
  • Gray's peak numbers look pretty decent, but hide the fact he regressed as a junior and senior.
  • Guys who just never developed into significant contributors: Andreas, Ibok, Rowley.
  • Guy who left the team due to injuries but probably wouldn't have become a major contributor anyway: Miller.

So, of the 18 players on the list whose careers are complete, I'd say only 5 players can be judged as failures in terms of never developing into a reliable part of the playing rotation or, in Gray's case, not coming close to meeting his enormous potential.

It's hard for me to judge a success rate (or at least "nonfailure rate) of 72.2% against other top college basketball programs, but it seems like a reasonable number.

Looking at the five scholarship big men that will be on the roster this fall:

  • Roe and Green are almost certain to move up the list above as they continue to develop and, in Roe's case, get 100% healthy.
  • Herzog could conceivably become a contributor, but it's hard to find a good match on the list above.  Maybe Naymick.  After three years in the program without making any discernible impact, the odds would seem to tilt toward him joining the list of players who didn't become reliable contributors.
  • Nix and Sherman will, we hope, end up in the Hutson/Smith/Suton/Ballinger/Granger group or, at worst, get to the Anagonye level.  Neither seems to fit the profile of the players at the bottom of the list--generally taller, less skilled players who never filled out.

The Spartan stars of the Izzo era have generally been guards and small forwards (continuing a trend from the Heathcote era): Cleaves, Peterson, Bell, Richardson, Taylor, Hill, Torbert, Anderson, Ager, Brown, Neitzel, Morgan, Lucas.  Izzo tends to recruit less-heralded big men, but his system is reliant on developing those players so they can do the things that allow the perimeter players to shine: rebound, set picks, make passes, hit jumpers, etc.

Next year's roster will be weighted toward the perimeter in terms of experience, with Lucas, Summers, Allen, Lucious, and Morgan all returning as key contributors.  Tom Izzo will have his work cut out for him in terms of making sure the big men can keep up.  If he can continue his historical rate of success--perhaps on a somewhat accelerated schedule--the team should be in good shape.