Spartans' Branden Dawson switching positions in quest for NBA future


Spartans' Branden Dawson switching positions in quest for NBA future

The Big Ten’s leading rebounder is trying to create an NBA future as a small forward.

Michigan State’s Branden Dawson is fresh off a season that saw him, a 6-foot-7 power forward, beat out multiple seven-footers for the conference’s rebounding title. But that not-so-big size means he won’t be able to make it as an NBA big man. The big men in the NBA are just too big.

So he’s changing his position. And the question becomes, “Can he even play small forward?”

It’s a question Dawson said he’s been asked plenty of times.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: NBA Draft Profile: Michigan State F Branden Dawson]

“A lot of coaches and GMs are concerned about my position, me going from the 4 to the 3,” Dawson said at last month’s NBA Draft Combine. “But I played the 3 my freshman and sophomore season, and we had to make that adjustment of me going to the 4 because of the team. I’ve been working on things as far as my weaknesses, my ball handling, decision making, shooting. I just want to show people that I’m comfortable playing the 3. The 3, for me, is not something that I never did or played.”

The reason so many are questioning Dawson’s ability to switch to a different position is because he flourished as a power forward at the collegiate level.

Last season, Dawson averaged 9.1 rebounds per game, as well as 11.9 points per game, earning All-Big Ten Second Team honors. He came up big as the Spartans barnstormed to the Big Ten Tournament title game (a loss to eventual national runner up Wisconsin) and the Final Four (a loss to eventual national champion Duke). In addition to a ferocious rebounding ability, he displayed other terrific defensive skills, be it stripping the ball in the post or blocking shots on the perimeter. He scored big points inside on the receiving end of alley oops and on putbacks.

But as good as Dawson was, it’s pretty evident that a 6-foot-7, 230-pound guy isn’t going to be able to do that with as much success in a league of giants.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Excitement builds over Sam Dekker's NBA potential]

So Dawson is going back to his roots as a small forward. He thinks being able to do all that stuff in a small forward’s body makes him an attractive candidate for a job in the NBA.

“I can use that to my advantage playing the 3,” he said, “I can guard similar guys, rebound it, get out running the floor and just doing things I can do.”

While everyone looks at the physical attributes, though, one thing that can’t be found on a stat sheet or a list of measurements is a history of winning. Dawson is the latest Spartan to try to make the jump from Tom Izzo’s program to the NBA. And though each player is different, Draymond Green’s week-old NBA title ought to make Izzo products even more attractive.

Dawson, along with a pair of last year’s first-round picks in Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, was a huge factor in a 2014 Big Ten Tournament championship. He won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. This past season, he helped lead Michigan State to its sixth Final Four of the Izzo Era.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Will Frank Kaminsky turn college success into NBA greatness?]

If an NBA team wants a player who’s used to the bright lights, Dawson fits that bill.

“It helped me a lot, being on a big stage like that will carry over into playing huge, huge games,” Dawson said. “Atmospheres like (the Combine) with people all over watching you play. Some people, they’ve never really been in this position before, never been to a Final Four. So I think the atmosphere is definitely going to help me out a lot.”

And then there’s the toughness. You don’t establish a resume like Dawson’s easily in the Big Ten. Known as a rough-and-tumble league, guys who can crash the boards and have success on the defensive end in that conference earn their reputations.

“It prepares us a lot. Our league is competitive, it’s tough,” he said. “You have to be ready to play every night. It definitely gets me ready for the next level because of how physical our league is and just knowing how tough it is. If you’re not ready to play in our league, it’s definitely going to be a shocker.”

So it might be possible that Dawson isn’t offensively skilled enough to make it as an NBA small forward. It might be possible that his body just won’t allow him to play the position he’s best at. But you don’t win a Big Ten title and reach a Final Four for lack of trying. And trying is exactly what Dawson will do very well on his quest to become a pro in the NBA.

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

Chicago, IL (October 15, 2018) – NBC Sports Chicago – THE Home of the #AuthenticFan – has announced it will launch Bulls Outsiders, a brand new, live, multi-platform, fan-interactive Bulls program that will provide a fresh take on that evening’s game and much more from three non-conventional sports show hosts.  Bulls Outsiders will make its network debut after the Bulls 2018-19 road/season opener this Thursday, October 18 (approx. 10:00 PM CT) immediately following Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois on NBC Sports Chicago+, via live stream to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers at NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive, and -- on Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago). NOTE: Bulls Outsiders will also re-air on the main NBC Sports Chicago channel on this night at 11:00 PM; the majority of airings will also air live on the main channel location.

Hosted by three, die-hard Bulls enthusiasts – Matt Peck (@Bulls_Peck), David Watson (@bawlsports), and John Sabine (@jsabine214) – Bulls Outsiders will provide viewers with the hottest takes, insightful analysis, and spirited commentary from the fans' perspective. This new half-hour program will immediately follow the network’s dedicated, season-long presentation of Bulls Postgame Live for all 82 Bulls games this season.  

In addition to the lively post-game discussion with the show’s hosts, Bulls Outsiders will also emphasize heavy viewer interaction via fan engagement on a number of the network’s social media platforms including Twitter (@NBCSBulls; fans urged to utilize the Twitter hashtag #BullsOutsiders in their posts) and Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago), which will enable Bulls fans to directly interact with the show’s hosts via comments and questions pertaining to that particular evening’s game, the key topics presented to them that night, or anything else they want to discuss from a league-wide NBA perspective. 

“Our primary goal at NBC Sports Chicago is to super serve our fans and with the introduction of Bulls Outsiders to our multi-platform programming line-up, we are able to continue that mission with a fresh and fun new program that not only speaks to Bulls fans, but one that directly involves them in the dialogue,” said Kevin Cross, Vice President of Content for NBC Sports Chicago. 

In preparation for the hiring of the program’s three primary hosts, NBC Sports Chicago reached out to a number of notable local (and vocal) die-hard Bulls fans who stood out among the vast Bulls social media community. Candidates who responded back with interest were simply asked to shoot a one-minute video on their phone and offer up their take on Chicago native/Simeon Career Academy H.S. grad Jabari Parker joining the Bulls via free agency.  From there, the initial two dozen candidates were narrowed down to eight, who were then all brought in for in-studio auditions. Following the lengthy on-camera process, Cross, along with Bulls content producer Kevin Anderson, finalized their decision and welcomed Peck, Watson, and Sabine to the NBC Sports Chicago family.  

“It was an intricate process in choosing our hosts, but there’s no doubt Matt, David, and John have a great chemistry and solid individual strengths,” added Cross. “I’m also excited about how Bulls Outsiders will take fan interactivity to a brand new level and I couldn’t be more pleased that we will be able to deliver this show to the passionate and undeniably-dedicated Bulls fan base.”

Please note the following Bulls Outsiders host bios:

Matt Peck - Podcast host/writer for ‘Locked On Bulls’

Age: 31

Hometown: Glen Ellyn, IL

Favorite Bull of all time: “MJ, obviously…but Rodman is a very close second.” 

Favorite Current Bull: Lauri Markkanen 

Favorite Bulls moments: 

1st place – “1997 NBA Finals Game 1. MJ hits the game-winner at the buzzer after Karl Malone misses 2 FTs...Mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays."

2nd place – “2011 Eastern Conference Finals Game 1…Bulls blow out the ‘Heatles.’ Taj destroys Dwyane Wade's soul. And has a FILTHY put back dunk late with the route on. The Madhouse goes insane. We all leave that night thinking we were about to win the title.” 

David Watson - Bulls writer/podcast host for BawlSports.com

Age: 39

Hometown: Chicago, IL                            

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: Michael Jordan

Favorite current Bulls player: Lauri Markkanen

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan Flu Game in ‘97…Noah dunk on Paul Pierce in ’09 first round Game 6 Triple OT…oh, and that Pippen dunk on Ewing in the ’94 playoffs.”

John Sabine - Actor, copywriter, and improviser…he has performed with The Second City IO and The Improvised Shakespeare Company.

Age: 34

Hometown: Originally from Dallas, TX…has lived in Chicago for the last 11 years

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: “Pippen or Rodman, it's probably Rodman. Is it weird it's Rodman?”

Favorite current Bulls player: “Lauri Markkanen, but really Bobby Portis. I want to be friends with Bobby Portis.” 

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan's return from baseball. As a kid I couldn't understand, I said "wait ...he just decided to not play and now he decided to play, but like he has a new number and he's still awesome...what?!’ or…either 2013 Round 1 Game 4 against the Nets 3OT, Nate Robinson. It was a Marvel Movie.” 

REMINDER: NBC Sports Chicago will carry the 2018-19 Bulls HOME OPENER on Saturday, October 20 (Bulls Pregame Live presented by Coors Light at 6:00 PM; Bulls vs. Pistons tip-off at 7:00 PM; Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois at approx. 9:30 PM, which will immediately be followed by Bulls Outsiders at approx. 10:00 PM).


Re-focused Zach LaVine primed to bounce back: ‘I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for’

Re-focused Zach LaVine primed to bounce back: ‘I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for’

Healthy in October for the first time in three seasons, Zach LaVine entered training camp as the $78 million man looking to justify one of the summer’s largest deals that many criticized.

And just a few days into camp, the spotlight homed in on him further when the Bulls lost Lauri Markkanen to an elbow injury.

LaVine responded to both challenges, putting together a preseason performance that not even the most optimistic expectations could have included.

In just 22.3 minutes he averaged 17.8 points on 52 percent shooting, made 44 percent of his triples and got to the free throw line a team best 4.8 times per game. In short, he looked much more like the potential franchise-building piece the Bulls believed they were acquiring 19 months ago.

“I’m my hardest critic, so there’s nothing on the outside that I haven’t told myself of where I want to be at. You want to tell the doubters on the outside I told you so, but it’s mostly coming from a place where I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for.’’

The fifth-year shooting guard was fluid, attacked in a variety of ways and looked like part of the offense, something that at times was non-existent during last year’s injury-riddled comeback season. Taking shots in rhythm, attacking the rim instead of settling for contested jumpers, running the floor. LaVine looked a lot like the player who shot 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from deep before the ACL injury in 2017.

“I think I found a good rhythm and then just keep that going into the regular season. I think last year still, I was trying to catch my rhythm with the games I played,” LaVine said Monday at the Advocate Center. “I’d play two good games and two bad games. I felt like that up and down was a little bit with the consistency of not playing. Now that I’m back fully I think that’s where I should be.”

The offensive uptick is a sight for sore eyes, especially with Markkanen on the mend. But where LaVine can quiet his harshest critics – including himself – is on the defensive end.

It’s just a five-game sample size, but LaVine’s individual defensive rating of 97.3 was better than the team’s overall 100.2 rating. A year ago, LaVine’s defensive rating was 113.9, the worst on the team, and worse than the team’s overall 110.4 mark. They’re baby steps, but steps nonetheless for a player who knows what the book says about him on that end of the floor.

“I think I had a lot better focus on the defensive end,” he said. “I had some mistakes too, but I wanted to go out there and just really hone in on being more focused down there. I felt like I did OK with that. Still some areas I want to get better at, definitely off-the-ball I think I did a lot better than I had before.’’

The preseason is one hurdle cleared, but they get much taller and difficult to get over when Thursday and the Philadelphia 76ers come around. No matter who starts in the frontcourt – Fred Hoiberg isn’t ready to announce Bobby Portis and Wendell Carter Jr. yet – or if the Bulls get good Jabari Parker instead of preseason Jabari Parker, all eyes will be on LaVine.

It’s the contract. It’s being the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butle trade. It’s how well he played before the injury and how dominant he looked in the preseason. He’s off to a good start and knows now is this time to build on it.

“There are a lot of things you want to reach and get better at every year, and I put a lot of work into this offseason,” he said. “I have a lot of things to prove and want to get better at, and yeah, I feel like it’s just motivation for yourself when you want to accomplish things.’’