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Michigan State Basketball: The Case for Javon Bess to Start at Power Forward

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With Marvin Clark currently out with a foot injury, here's the case that Javon Bess should be the starting power forward early on.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Last year the Golden State Warriors started former Michigan State Spartan Draymond Green at power forward to help them win an NBA title despite Green standing at just 6'7". Last year he became what Grantland's Zach Lowe called a "playmaking 4" which differs from a simple stretch 4 by (in Lowe's own words):

Shooting is nice, but it’s not enough anymore as defenses get smarter, faster, and more flexible working within the loosened rules. Spot-up guys have to be able to catch the ball, pump-fake a defender rushing out at them, drive into the lane, and make some sort of play. If they can’t manage that, a possession dies with them.

"In a playoff series, you can figure out shooting," Karl says. "You just cover Kyle Korver. All that cute stuff they ran for him all year long — they only get that once in a while now. The shooters who have playmaking ability — those are the guys that are really kicking ass."

Due to Marvin Clark's injury, it appears that the early season starting forward spot will go to either freshman Deyonta Davis or sophomore Javon Bess. While Javon Bess does not have the height, strength, nor defense that Green has, I think he has the potential to become a versatile, playmaking 4 at the college level.

The Evidence

Right now the biggest issue on projecting what Bess can become is that we have such little college data on Bess and what he can really do. He scored just 32 points in 148 minutes played so we have a very limited sample size to look at. Thankfully we can have some data to look from the Nike EYBL to along with the reports from Izzo and the players.

Some quotes on Bess:

From MLive last year:

"He's stepped up a lot, he's got size, he can shoot it better than decent, he can handle it, he can get offensive rebounds, he can guard people, he has a high basketball IQ," Izzo said.

Izzo went as far as to compare him to former Spartan Raymar Morgan.

"He has a great feel for the game, has a great understanding, except he is in love with the game," Izzo said.

From Rexrode last summer:

"Better than I thought," Valentine said. "He's a pure scorer, and he's really smart. He knows how to read everything — ball screens, back doors, all that stuff. Can rebound, play defense."

Outside shooting

One part about being the quintessential playmaking 4 is that he to be able to at least be a threat to score from the perimeter. He shot just 1-2 on 3PA's last year (which means basically nothing) but he shot 23 of 66 (34.8%) from 3 in the EYBL showing that he has at least some form on it. More recently during the Moneyball Pro-Am, he shot 3-7 (42.9%) from 3 in three games and while again that's a very small sample size, it's encouraging that he appears to be comfortable shooting from outside. He doesn't need to be Kenny Kaminski out there as a stretch 4 but he does need to be enough of a threat that he can't be left alone.

Playmaking

Because Draymond isn't a particularly good outside shooter, he has to compensate with being able to create space for his teammates with his passing ability on drive and kick outs. Although Bess was limited last year, he showed flashes of his passing ability with 4 assists against Maryland and couple 3 assist games against Iowa and Texas Southern. One stat that stands out is that Bess' assist rate of 14.5% was fourth on the team behind Trice, Valentine, and Nairn. During the EYBL a couple years ago, Bess averaged 3.5 assist per game and he increased that number to 6.2  during the five game of the Peach Jam with a better than 2-to-1 assist/TO ratio. With a number of shooters on the team, being able to drive against a bigger player and find guys on the perimeter could be a solid weapon for MSU's offense.

Versatility/Glue guy potential

One reason that Bess would fit in well with the starting lineup is that he doesn't require the ball in his hands to be effective. His offensive rebounding % (in limited minutes) was highest on the team while his defensive rebounding % was fifth. He had a solid blk% and stl% and his best attribute on offense was getting to the FT line with a 91.3% FTRate (albeit with a poor FT%). Izzo said that Bess has a 7 foot wingspan which should enable him to play taller than 6'5" in the post while still being able to switch onto smaller players better than a taller player (Davis/Wollenman) would. His reported understanding of the game should allow him to fit in with guys who may need the ball while also being able to pick his spots.

Why he shouldn't start

One of the two biggest reason he shouldn't start is that he may simply be too small to be a full-time college power forward. Against many teams he'll be fine but against some of the best competition he could be undersized to the point where it'll be a large disadvantage for MSU. The other main reason that he shouldn't start is that while he may be better than Deyonta Davis in the short team, it may be better for the team long term if they throw Davis in there so he can get more experience and be better suited to handle the rest of the season. Turnovers are also an issue for Bess but some of that is that he was a freshman and it was also just in limited minutes for him.

Overall

I do think Bess with his versatility and playmaking at the 4 can be the spark that helps this team realize its full-potential. He was slated to start last year ahead of Alvin Ellis and Bryn Forbes before his injury and he appears to be recovered from that injury. His unique blend of size, wingspan, and defense would enable him to rebound against college 4's while giving MSU an edge offensively due to his (potential) shooting and quickness advantage. Deyonta Davis has more raw talent than him but it's often hard for big men to smoothly transition from high school to the college game (Adreian Payne only averaged 9 minutes as a freshman).Regardless of whether or not he starts, it would seem that he'll have a nice role on this team at one of the two forward spots.