I've been able to spend two nights watching this summer's Moneyball Pro-Am and it's been a great opportunity to see not just Michigan State players but local talents like LaDontae Henton, Boo Man Edmunds, Johnathon Jones, and lots of great names from the past and present. Of course, it's the future that's as exciting as anything and I have a tendency to focus on the new guys about to wear the Green & White in the fall. Luckily, in the two nights I showed up (7/1 and 7/8), Lourawls Nairn, Eron Harris, Bryn Forbes, Marvin Clark, and Javon Bess were all present.
This topic always come up and it's true that you can't make solid conclusions about how a player will fit at MSU from watching the open, unstructured format of Moneyball. However, I don't think you can totally dismiss it either. If you attended the summer league in previous years, you would have seen Adreian Payne working on a perimeter game, Brandon Dawson looking physically NBA-ready before ever playing, and Gary Harris' smoothness and body control. You get lots of small tells about players' strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, even mindsets. It doesn't all translate but some does. Here's what I noticed on those two nights.
Almost all the new players showed up with their advertised games. First, Bryn Forbes is an excellent shooter. He can pick up off the dribble or take a set shot from an open look. His style and ease of shooting reminds me a bit of Travis Trice. Unlike his teammates Eron Harris and Javon Bess, Forbes is not physically imposing and one thing to watch will be how he transitions from the Horizon to the Big Ten. His lack of size and strength may require some adjustments. Whether he's just a shooter off the bench or a major contributor will depend on how much he demonstrates other skills and hangs with the rigors of MSU-caliber opponents night after night.
Two players who absolutely look the part are Javon Bess and Eron Harris. Harris is long and lean but has good size for his position. Though everyone is out for his own shot at Moneyball, you can absolutely see how Harris could be a high usage player. He likes to attack the basket but will shoot from all around the court as well. The big thing is that he's aggressive. Harris uses his speed, size, and handle to go at players and get to the rim. Not only will he score for the Spartans but he'll probably draw his share of fouls. I wouldn't be shocked if he has moments of forced offense for Michigan State that frustrate fans and coaches but he'll probably be incredibly valuable as an assertive player who can get his own points. As you'll see in the video below, he's also an excellent athlete and can dunk anything.
Javon Bess is maybe an inch taller and even more strongly built than Harris. You can easily see him sliding into the bigger wing spot at MSU alongside a shorter/smaller guard like Forbes or Ellis. Bess wasn't as impressive this week as he was last but he's still showing enough to suggest that he might be the real steal of this recruiting class. He doesn't necessarily do one thing that jumps out but he can score around the rim, post up smaller players, and elevate for midrange effectiveness. He has as much buzz coming out of Moneyball for MSU as anyone.
I think expectations for Lourawls Nairn should be kept in perspective. From all reports, he's a great personality as a teammate and is setting up as a future leader of his Spartan squad. Most of us have heard that his major attribute is speed and that's legit. He is fast down the court and can knife around the paint. Of all the players, Moneyball might do him the least justice. A major part of his game is going to be finding opportunities for others and distributing the ball. Without more designed set offense or organized breaks, he doesn't have as frequent of opportunities to do this. Nairn's challenges are there on display. He didn't attempt too many jumpshots as that's not his game. Though his speed allows him to get anywhere he wants, he struggles a bit to finish at the rim (though he had a better night yesterday). This probably won't get any easier with the size and athleticism of his college defenders. Nairn isn't likely to be an impact scorer any time soon so we'll have to see what he can do as a facilitator and leader.
I had to spend a lot of time focusing on the mystery man Marvin Clark. There's more documentary footage on Youtube about his life story than there are clips of him playing basketball. Still, we've heard the reports - physical, an athlete, and a shooter. The "shooter" rep had a few people skeptical. It didn't necessarily "feel" right that this unknown player, a bruiser 6'6" forward, was actually a gunner. On Tuesday, Clark did put on a display of his shooting ability. He hit multiple triples including at least three of them during a hotly contested 3OT game against Draymond Green's team. He had played well all game and sank a couple already but this burst of alpha dog scoring took everyone by surprise. Earlier in the contest, he also handled the ball a lot and brought it up the court. I don't know that this is a "strength" but handling the ball is something he can do. Clark is not much taller than Javon Bess hence 6'6" seems about right so he's going to join a long list of undersized power forwards at MSU (Anderson, Green, Dawson). I still don't think he'll be primarily a wing for us. Not only does his game and build make him look like a post but he might have trouble defending quicker wings. He spent much of his time matched up on Draymond.
Now, as promised, here is some video of Nairn, Bess, Clark, and Harris. Caveat emptor: I didn't have access to a quality camera. If you don't mind grain, inconsistent zoom, distorted audio, and floating white balance, you'll get a decent look at these guys in action. If you can't handle that stuff and you're within an hour or two, I say head over to the Pro-Am where you can sit in the equivalent of the first rows at the Breslin and see a bunch of Spartan players up close for free. In either case, the price is right.
Edit: Second caveat - these are not "highlight videos." There's some warts-and-all stuff on here to give people a feel for players' actual performances.