As the NBA All-Star break approaches, the season is heating up. There are lots of great storylines: Giannis Antetokounmpo has suddenly become a top-10 player, the revamped Warriors are still a sight to behold and Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double (and still somehow not the MVP favorite!) My favorite storyline, year in and year out, is checking in on the Michigan State Spartans in the NBA.
Anderson, who’s in his 8th NBA season, is currently playing for the Clippers. After a career renaissance in 2012 in Toronto, the veteran wing has bounced around, making stops in Brooklyn, Washington and now Los Angeles. He’s averaging 3.3 points per game, playing 11.4 minutes. He’s a deep rotation vet on a possible title contender (we’ll see what happens with Chris Paul) and it looks like he’s near the end of his NBA career.
The one-and-done rookie is currently battling some depth chart challenges and injury problems. Davis suffered a torn plantar fascia in mid-December and has only played three games since. He’s playing just over seven minutes per game, shooting a nice 54.1% clip, only scoring two points. It’s going to be tough for him to make more of an impact this season, as he’s behind Zach Randolph, (now healthy) Chandler Parsons, JaMychal Green and Jarell Martin on the depth chart.
Sitting at just 20 years old, none of this should be worrisome for Davis. The lanky big man clearly needed more time to improve after his freshman campaign with the Spartans, and under the tutelage of Randolph and Marc Gasol, he should slowly improve into a force on both ends of the floor. No one truly expected him to make an impact quite yet.
A staple on the Spurs’ summer league teams, undrafted Bryn Forbes cracked the San Antonio roster entering the season. Due to a tumultuous start and being outperformed by other players on the team, though, Forbes has spent a lot of this season playing for the Spurs’ D-League affiliate, the Austin Spurs.
In his time in Austin, Forbes led the team in minutes played per game (36.6) and points per game (23.3). He also shot 49.4% from the floor (41.4% from three).
In his limited NBA minutes, Forbes has struggled to find his footing from three, shooting just over 20%. That’s the main reason he hasn’t been able to crack the Spurs’ rotation (although he’s been playing more lately due to Tony Parker’s injury — on Tuesday night, Forbes scored a career-high eight points.) Inevitably, Forbes will be able to adjust to the new three-point line and start hitting threes like the Forbes MSU fans love and remember. If he can do that, he’ll find a solid niche in the NBA. If not, it’s going to be tough for him to make a legitimate impact.
If you haven’t heard anything about Draymond Green in the NBA, chances are you’ve been living under a rock. Arguably one of the NBA’s ten best players, Green is currently the backbone of possibly the best team ever assembled. Their record might not match the 73-9 tear the Warriors went on all of last season, but the team is finally starting to click on all cylinders. All other contenders (looking at you, Cavs) are scrambling to make moves to match the firepower of the Warriors. And, in large part, it’s due to Green’s energy. Despite the controversy he creates, he’s the biggest locker room force on the most ferocious basketball team in the world.
This year, Green will be making his second consecutive All-Star appearance. And it probably won’t be his last.
After a very pleasing 2015-16 campaign, Harris carried over his momentum into this season. His numbers are slightly better than last season across the board; he’s scoring 12.7 points per game (0.4 increase) on 47% shooting (.01% increase) and a 38.8% three-point rate (.34% increase). He’s an important cog on a budding team with a lot of moving parts. While the focus has been on future star Nikola Jokic, Harris is still an ever-improving force.
He missed three games recently due to an ankle injury, but came back and scored 22 points in his return, washing away the worries of some Nuggets fans. Harris looks like he could be a future all-star and an important piece to a very good basketball team.
Payne’s NBA career to date has been very subpar. The former MSU standout has yet to find his footing in the association and there’s a chance he never will. He hasn’t developed an outside scoring game like he had when he wore the green and white and is a total defensive liability. On a young team with a bright future and a pair of excellent young big men (Karl Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng), it looks like Payne has solidified his role deep on the bench.
Payne has only made 10 appearances this season, averaging 8.8 minutes in said games. He’s averaging 4.4 points and 1.7 rebounds on 44.7% shooting. On the bright side, Payne is sticking in the NBA and not in the D-League or Europe. Maybe a future as a career-long deep bench player isn’t bad.
The OG Michigan State one-and-done is in his 16th NBA season and re-discovering himself as a solid role player on a good Western Conference Memphis Grizzlies squad. He spend the first 13 or so years of his career as a franchise cornerstone and has seen his minutes dip in recent seasons.
This year, Randolph is averaging 14.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, averaging 24 minutes played in those competitions. He’s only started two games this year, but his per-36 numbers compare to even his best seasons (21.2 points, 12.3 rebounds). He’s settling in to his veteran role, mentoring young players like Deyonta Davis and JaMychal Green while still contributing to the team’s success on a regular basis.
Due to his play style, Randolph has flown under the radar in the NBA as one of its most effective players ever since he entered the league. That might be the reason he doesn’t make the Hall of Fame. But he deserves it just as much as the next guy, and those who have watched him play over the past decade and a half give him all the respect he deserves.
The MSU darling has had a rough go of it in his first NBA campaign. First things first, he’s on a Chicago Bulls team that is currently a dumpster fire. Second of all, all of the worries about Valentine’s NBA skill set are coming to fruition.
So far in his (very) short career, Valentine is predictably a below-average defender, blowing defensive rotations and lacking the athleticism to stick with star wing players and guards. Offensively, though, is where Valentine’s been the most disappointing. He was expected to make an immediate impact on the offensive side of the floor, and he’s been anything but that. He’s shooting 32% from the field this year coupled with a 31% three-point percentage. He’s averaging 3.3 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.6 assists in about 12 minutes played per game.
Valentine has shown signs of legitimacy, though, and with injuries and turmoil with the Chicago guards (Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo are all dealing with their own situations), he has occasionally seen meaningful minutes on the floor. Two weeks ago against Washington, Valentine played 30 minutes and scored 19 points on 7-15 shooting.
It’s not even halfway through the first season of Denzel Valentine’s career, so freaking out over his NBA future is ridiculous. Remember how disappointing Draymond Green was in his first two seasons? Now, that’s a bit of a different situation because Green was an immediate force on defense and had a lot more potential, but the point still stands. Valentine still has a lot of room to improve. Even if he never becomes a solid defender — which he probably won’t — he could become an offensive force that makes a true impact in the NBA.