The successful and exciting 2018/2019 season is in the rearview mirror for MSU basketball. Tom Izzo and his team provided us with numerous championships, a Final Four berth and countless memories that will be cherished for a long long time. But as sports fans love to say after one season has ended “there is always next year”. And it could be a great one for Michigan State as the goals figure to be once again lofty. Part of the reason for that is the incoming freshman class and we want to take a look at what we can expect from the three newest members of the Spartans hoops family.
Combo Guard, 6-2, 180 lbs, SPIRE Academy (Ohio), 4 stars
High School: Watts played on a loaded team at SPIRE Institute with the likes of LaMelo Ball, D1 prospect Myron Gardner and 2020 MSU target Isaiah Jackson after transferring there from Old Redford Academy in Detroit. His AAU team was The Family and he has played for USA Basketball, winning the gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championships.
Other offers for Watts included Louisville, Minnesota, Oregon, USC, LSU, UConn, Florida State and Michigan.
Size/athletisism: While his size doesn‘t look special in terms of numbers, Watts should be considered a „long“ 6-2. He has a solid wingspan, a long, rangy body and I would not be surprised if he actually measures in a little bit taller than what he is listed at right now (Tom Izzo actually referred to him recently as being 6-3). His foot speed and balance are elite and his overall athletisism should be seen as above average aswell. While not a super explosive leaper, with room and space he can get up there and throw it down in the lane. His body control and feel for space is tremendous already.
Strengths: Watts is the type of player that we haven‘t seen in the green and white for quite some time. He is truly an explosive scorer that can fill up the scoreboard in a hurry, as evidenced by a 64 point outburst during his senior season (shortly after he was not nominated for the prestigious McDonald‘s All American game). He already has NBA range on his jumper and is not afraid of taking it from anywhere on the court. He possesses a good form and strong base on his jumpshot and it should be a weapon from the day he steps on campus in East Lansing. While his shooting ability can be considered lethal, what really sets him apart is his ballhandling and his ability to go one on one. He can create his own shot at any time and anywhere on the court. Watts has the ball on a string while dribbling and can leave any defender in the dust going either left or right with a quick first step. His super tight handle would make him feel right at home on any streetball court from Rucker Park to Venice Beach.
Once he gets into the lane he likes to quickly rise for a midrange jumper but is also very capable of getting all the way to the basket. There he can finish with either hand and shows tremendous balance avoiding eventual shot blockers. His passing ability is very good and he has shown tremendous potential as a drive and dish guard.
Weaknesses: What Watts can add defensively is largely a projection as SPIRE mostly played a full court press throughout his time there. In AAU he has shown an ability to guard and he has stated numerous times that his defensive development is something that he cares about a lot. Nevertheless, he could run into some problems early against bigger NCAA shooting guards.
As is often the case with dynamic scorers, especially at the high school level, Watts‘ shot selection can be absolutely brutal at times. Playing alongside Lamelo Ball you could see a certain bad influence having rubbed off on Watts. At times he did some cherry picking while not getting back on defense or treated certain game situations more like an exhibition rather than an actual contest. He better leave all of these things behind him or he could run into early trouble with a certain coach named Tom Izzo.
Potential role: While his size might lead some to believe that he has the point guard position in his future, Watts at heart is a true scoring guard and will be used as such early on. His shot creating and one on one ability could give him a big role as this has been a weakness for MSU teams in recent years. As a secondary ball handler Watts could do very well releasing some pressure off Cassius Winston. When he shows enough defensively and quickly gets comfortable in a structured, team oriented offense, then he could be an absolutely dynamic and electric scorer off the bench early and star down the road.
Combo Forward, 6-8, 215 lbs, Sunrise Christian Academy (Kansas), 4 stars
High School: Hall has played for Sunrise Christian Academy, a program that also produced the likes of former Oklahoma star Buddy Hield and former Spartans Tum Tum Nairn and Marvin Clark Jr. Originally he was set to be part of the 2018 class but due to his late birthday he reclassified to 2019. Hall spent his last season playing for Sunrise‘s postgrad team. His AAU program was Mokan Elite where he played together with 2019 Kansas commit Christian Braun and 2020 five star center and Sunrise teammate N‘Faly Dante among others.
He held offers from Kansas, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Villanova, Texas, Memphis, Florida State, Purdue and Oklahoma among many others.
Size/Athletisism: Hall is classic combo forward with good length and solid strength. For a college power forward he would have decent size, for a small forward though he would have tremendous length. What stands out mostly about his body is his wide base and his strong legs. It helps him to keep position down low and get to his spots whenever he wants.
While not an explosive athlete Hall moves very smoothly and fluidly for a player his size. He shows a knack for eluding defenders on his way to the basket and even though you wouldn‘t call him a top level leaper, he can definitely finish above the rim. His lateral movement especially on defense needs some improvement and he has to work on his second jump. When engaged in the post he struggles to really elevate at times but his strength allows him to finish through contact more often than not at the high school level.
Strengths: If you want to describe Malik Hall in one word skilled would come to mind first. He really possesses an extremely well rounded game that allows him to excel in various areas on the court. He is a good jump shooter with legit three point range and he is very capable of working off that skill. When a defender closes Hall can get by him effortlessly and then finish inside the lane. His ball handling is above average for a player his size.
His two biggest strengths are his post game and his passing. A lot of 6-8 guys can shoot in todays game but not many can also take the ball into the post and really go to work with their back to the basket. Hall is a very aggressive post up option with great balance and feel for the defender. He can go over each shoulder and finish through contact. His passing makes him a very good option in the high post or in the seams of a defense. Numerous times throughout his high school career he has played the role of a point forward and has done very well in that regard.
Hall is an emotional, verbal and fearless player who does not back down from a challenge. At the same time he stays calm even in pressure situations and shows growing leadership skills. His smarts are one of his biggest assets on defense aswell.
Weaknesses: As with most tweeners you have to wonder where his role is going to be at the next level. Can he really match up with bigger college players at the four and is he quick enough to handle full time perimeter duties? His lack of explosive leaping ability in the post could lead to some struggles when he is asked to finish over size and his for now average foot speed will surely be tested if he mans the small forward position.
Issues could also arise defensively and on the glass where he hasn‘t yet made the most out of his athletic abilities and loses position too easily at times. His jumper, while clearly a strength, can be a little shaky due to a very inconsistent motion and positioning of his feet.
Potential role: Hall has said that Tom Izzo sees him kind of in the mold of a poor man‘s Draymond Green, noting his ability to do damage both on the inside and the outside. Over the years Izzo has coached plenty of tweener forwards like Green, Branden Dawson or Raymar Morgan and has been very successful finding the right roles for them. The thing about Hall is that he already possesses plenty of perimeter skills and it will be interesting how Izzo views him ultimatively. Early on the playing time will be found inside after Nick Ward declared for the NBA Draft, yet due to his length Hall might have the higher ceiling on the perimeter. Due to reclassifiying Hall‘s transition to the college game should be easier than for many others.
Power Forward, 6-8, 230 lbs, Dallas Jesuit HS (Texas), 3 stars
High School: Marble played for the Dallas Jesuit Rangers where he starred at center and power forward and in AAU ball he competed with Marcus Smart YGC36. Marble missed significant time his junior year with an injury and only started to garner significant high D1 interest in the middle of his senior season.
He committed immediately after visiting East Lansing on the last day of the B1G regular season, having watched the Spartans beat Michigan for a share of the regular season title. His best offers beside MSU were Oklahoma State, TCU and Illinois.
Size/Athletisism: Marble has solid size for a college post player and a muscular frame that looks to be capable of handling some additional pounds of good weight. He has long arms and an overall rangy body. Marble can look a bit uncomfortable moving at times yet he regularly surprises with an explosive leaping ability and the will to finish everything near the rim with a dunk. He runs the floor extremely well and is a hard worker on both ends of the floor.
His core strength and lower base need some work, which should help him down the road to realize his plus potential as a rebounder.
Strengths: Marble was a late riser in the recruiting process but upon closer inspection offers a lot more than you would expect from a low three star prospect. He was the lone big man for his high school team and truly played big most of the time. He is a hard worker and an aggressive, emotional player who always goes the extra step.
What probably offers the most potential is his face up game. His jumper has a great form and he takes it comfortably from behind the three point line. When a defender steps out Marble excels at going by him with a quick first step. While on the block he possesses more of a power game and he is great at finishing lobs or dump offs with authority. He rebounds out of his area and has a basic understanding of rebounding principles already.
What really catches the eye watching him is his advanced understanding of passing the ball, not only in the paint, where he regularly kicks out to open shooters, but also on the break. When Marble got a rebound he regularly initiated the break and then made a play on the other end. The fact that he can not only bring the ball up court but also throw perfect one handed passes to running teammates is a tremendous sign for his future. Defensively Marble also offers a lot of upside. He moves his feet well, understands positioning and can extend out on the perimeter with ease. He is not a dominant shot blocker by any means but he does well challenging shots with his length.
Weaknesses: As noted above, at times his movement looks a bit uncoordinated and not entirely fluid. It seems like he has yet to fully grow into and get comfortable with his own body. The same can be said for his playing strength (as is the case with most high schoolers). A year in the weight room and of constant high level Division I athletic training should easily help in that regard though. Conditioning is another factor that has to be improved upon.
Offensively Marble lacks a truly reliable post game, even if he has a few moves. Overall he can be fairly dependant on his right hand (especially handling the ball), something that will be attacked at the next level and which has led to some concerning turnover numbers. Most of his limitations come from his solid yet overall unspectacular length. Make no mistake about it, he is plenty big enough to play in the post in college. But against longer, stronger athletes he could run into some trouble on both ends and he has to refine his skills along the board in order to be effective.
Potential role: As is the case with Malik Hall, Tom Izzo offered a player comparison by name during the recruiting process. In Marble Izzo sees a lot of the things he has seen from Kenny Goins over the years – the defensive approach, the hard work, the outside shooting, the passing ability, the similar build (even though Marble is listed taller). I think over time Marble could easily grow into a Goins like role as a swiss army knife power forward and he might even add some dimensions like ball handling or some more inside play.
Early on Marble‘s way to minutes is on the glass and as an athletic big who can throw his body around. His athletisism, brawn and leaping ability set him apart from some of the other inside players and his development in the other skill areas of his game will determine his breakthrough.