It's hard to remember now that Russell Byrd chose Tom Izzo and Michigan State over offers from Todd Lickliter of Iowa and Billy Gillespie of Kentucky. Or that he joined a Spartan team featuring Kalin Lucas, Delvon Roe and Garrick Sherman, among others. I think gas was 25 cents a gallon then too. In the time since then Byrd has played a grand total of 349 minutes (6.6 min/g) and remains an enigma on Michigan State's roster.
Byrd averaged 23 pts/g as a high school senior and was a top-100 player. He hit 18 of 26 threes at the NBPA Top 100 camp the summer before coming to East Lansing, when everything seemed to go wrong. After a foot injury forced him to redshirt his freshman year he got into 27 games and shot 28% from beyond the arc in his return to active duty. Last year the wheels came off completely, including shooting 50% from the line and a dismal 17.1% from three-point range.
Despite the lack of court time, Byrd has got to be the team leader in tweets generated per minute of play. And the tweeters don't seem to find any middle ground: he's either a waste of a scholarship or a good kid who just needs to get his head straight. Those attending games in person seem to skew heavily toward the second camp, and Byrd was generally cheered and encouraged to shoot by the Breslin crowds, despite some painful struggles. It was difficult to watch those struggles, knowing that he's probably capable of more and that his teammates valued him enough to make him a captain before the season started.
Not to put too fine a point on it, however, the numbers show that Byrd was one of the least efficient players in the Big Ten in 2012-13. Although I would argue that Benny Parker of Nebraska was worse - he played an average of over 20 minutes in every game with an offensive rating almost indistinguishable from Byrd's - Byrd did have the lowest offensive efficiency mark of any player listed on a Big Ten team roster on kenpom.com.
Byrd's offensive rating of 78.8 (for comparison, KJ's number for a "replacement-level" player in his PORPAG statistic is 88.0) was largely a result of his weird, inexplicable, almost Steve Blass-esque three-point percentage. And he wasn't especially shy to shoot them, taking one for less than every five minutes of court time.
His other numbers don't offer a lot of encouragement either. In his time on court he wasn't an especially impressive rebounder, didn't block shots or cause turnovers and wasn't particularly sure-handed with the ball. All of this comes with the small sample size caveat of course, since Byrd played so little.
That Byrd's role was so diminished was an especially bad sign last year, when Tom Izzo played with one of his shortest benches of recent years. With Travis Trice's injuries, Brandan Kearney's midseason departure, and no one really stepping up on the bench, there were minutes to be had. Byrd just wasn't able to make a case for claiming them.
In last year's shootaround piece on Byrd KJ noted that "Byrd's small subset of college numbers don't raise any issues to be alarmed about and he has a pretty legitimate excuse for his slow development to date." Well, after another year of similar, if not worse, production, there are clearly concerns about his development. By all accounts he's a great kid and a great teammate and it's hard not to root for him. But all of that only goes so far when it comes to getting minutes on a top-flight college basketball team.
This summer will be critical for Byrd, meaning he has to stay healthy and start to overcome some of the mental and physical issues holding him back. Initial reports are promising: he's put on 7-8 pounds of muscle and scored 82 points in two games at the Moneyball Pro-Am. If he can carry that into the season, given MSU's rather thin incoming class, he will have at least a chance to get the minutes he'll need to show what he is capable of.