Branden Dawson Is Not Just an “X-factor” AnymorePosted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 29th, 2013
During the offseason, the hype surrounding Michigan State centered around three key players: Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling. Payne’s athleticism, Harris’ offensive firepower and Appling’s experience were determined as the key factors that would drive Tom Izzo’s squad to a Final Four. Junior guard Branden Dawson was included in the analysis but only as an “x-factor.” But after six games, Dawson is not just a sideshow anymore; he should be considered as one of the primary weapons for the Spartans. Dawson doesn’t have to find ways to impact the game as an “x-factor,” but there are definitely two ways in which he will impact every game: rebounding and defense. Let’s examine Dawson’s direct impact on the top-ranked team in the country.
- Rebounding: Dawson is averaging 9.7 RPG, but his intensity on the offensive glass is more impressive than what the statistics have shown this season. There are not many, if any, offensive plays called for Dawson but he has managed to average 9.6 PPG by attacking the boards. Check out his game-winning tip-in against Kentucky during the first week of the season. In this possession, Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein was assigned to guard Dawson and was forced to step out of the paint as the Spartans spread the floor. As Appling drove into the paint, Cauley-Stein pulled away to cover the paint, leaving Dawson wide open on the wing. Dawson rarely takes a shot from the perimeter, so Stein’s move was perfectly justified. But what Stein did not factor in was Dawson’s toughness to find his way into the paint and muscle around with the opposing big men. This possession proves more than Dawson’s rebounding; it shows that opposing teams have a huge mismatch when lining up a traditional power forward against him. A big guy isn’t quick enough to keep up with Dawson and a quicker “stretch 4” will not be strong enough to handle Dawson in the paint. This mismatch of epic proportions will continue to haunt opposing coaches because Izzo will play Dawson at the power forward because he doesn’t lose an edge on the glass. By playing Dawson at the four, Izzo can use an additional guard such as Denzel Valentine or Travis Trice to spread the floor and increase the Spartans’ long-range shooting in the half-court.
- Defense: If players like Cauley-Stein have trouble checking Dawson on the offensive end, they should be able to dominate them on the other end of the floor because they are bigger, right? Nope. Weighing a bulky 225 pounds, Dawson has proved that he can guard traditional power forwards with post moves. Let’s use the Kentucky game to understand his impact. We know that Julius Randle dominated the second half during that game, but he was frustrated in the first half by Dawson’s defense. Every time Randle tried to back down into the paint, Dawson pushed him away and forced him to take ill-advised turnaround jumpers and play out of his comfort zone. Sure, Randle adjusted his game and almost led his team to a win in the second half, but Dawson’s defense in that game shouldn’t be discounted. Randle is arguably the best power forward in the country and if Dawson can hold his own against him, imagine how he would perform against other forwards who are not expected to be a top-three pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Playing a 6’6″ wing to defend the best forward is a gamble, but the gamble pays off if the wing can manage to defend for at least half of the game. Dawson is not a liability on defense, especially if you consider his impact on the offensive end. Overall, his impact is not just positive on both ends of the game, his play will elevate Michigan State to a higher level.