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Spartans' Branden Dawson switching positions in quest for NBA future

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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.

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

There is much discussion in the basketball community surrounding the value of the midrange shot following a Sun-Times article from Joe Cowley that discussed the Bulls analytics department wanting Zach LaVine to limit his mid-range attempts, and a segment on ESPN's The Jump, discussing the same topic. On Tuesday morning Matt Moore of the Action Network chimed in, offering up the statistics that clearly support the notion that LaVine should be shooting many, many more 3-pointers than 2s. 

While Moore's points were solid and backed up by the numbers, NBA superstar Kevin Durant offered up his opinion from a player's perspective. Durant backed up LaVine's quote of "sometimes there's nothing better than putting the ball in your best playmaker's hands and letting him get the shot he needs rather than the one you want." KD commented that he has seen too many players pass up wide-open midrange shots to force up 3-pointers or contested shots at the rim, with analytics having an influence on the shots that players take, referring the mid-range as "forbidden."

Durant went on to comment and respond to users' comments on the situation. In one response Durant agrees with a user who states that he is teaching his son to work on his mid-range game first and shoot 3-pointers once he is strong enough, stating "that's how I was taught."

Moore had some fun with the response from Durant, stating that when he initially tweeted about the topic, his intentions were not to get into a debate on the value of mid-range shots with an active NBA player who is already among the all-time greats. 

 Moore's original sentiment agrees with what the Bulls' analytics department is trying to accomplish. LaVine has always been a good mid-range shooter but last year alone he shot 35.8% on mid-range shots and 37.4% on 3-point attempts.

It is obvious that players still need to have to players who can hit mid-range attempts, as some of the best teams in the league—including recent NBA champions Toronto and Golden State, who finished second in the league in percentage of points coming from mid-range shots—have relied on players who can generate solid mid-range attempts in high-leverage moments. But Durant's point is important to note too.

Durant stated that you have to be "confident to make any shot" but countered that whatever you work on the most is what you will be best at. He doubled down on that point, saying most primary scoring options in the NBA shouldn't worry about analytics and should play off of feel, rather than numbers. 

Ultimately, there has to be a balance.

As we have seen through the preseason, taking fewer shots from the mid-range has certainly appeared to benefit LaVine's game, as he is currently fourth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 23.3 points per game through three contests. But taking what the defense gives you, especially when you are as confident of a player as Durant or LaVine, still needs to be emphasized. 

In what should be a huge season for LaVine, he will again have a high-usage rate as he looks to lead the Bulls to a bounce-back season and mid-range shots, while limited, will still be a part of his shot profile.

So as far as Chicago Bulls fans should be concerned, this is a win-win. LaVine has clearly taken to heart was the Bulls' analytics department is preaching by shooting fewer mid-rangers but he still understands that that shot is going to be necessary for certain moments. So when LaVine is open from mid-range in 2019-20, the Bulls coaching staff will likely be saying the same thing Durant did on Tuesday morning, "Shoot em Zach."

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Watch Lauri Markkanen and Cristiano Felício brave a haunted house

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USA Today

Watch Lauri Markkanen and Cristiano Felício brave a haunted house

Lauri Markkanen is 7-feet tall.  Cristiano Felício is 6-feet-10. It’s safe to say they’re big guys, which would lead you to believe they wouldn’t be scared by much.

In a preseason outing to 13th Floor Haunted House in Chicago, Lauri and Felício showed that height doesn’t mean you’re immune to spooks (especially when Benny the Bull is let loose in the haunted house control room).  

Watch them try to maneuver their tall frames through cobwebs and zombies in the video posted to the Bulls’ Twitter here.

Viewers beware, ghastly ghouls and frightened NBA stars await you.

Despite all the screaming, the Bulls players sounded like they had a fun night. Lauri even responded to video on Twitter saying that while maybe he got scared a little, he ultimately had a good time.

Hey, if they can face-off against monsters and chainsaw mascot maniacs, taking on the other teams in NBA won’t seem so bad!

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.